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Helping children manage anxiety and return to activities this summer

At the end of the most unusual and very tiring school year, families are looking to the summer when pandemic rules change and new possibilities open up. Camping and beach vacations are exciting for many children.But there are many Questions and anxiety Even during this transition, psychologists say.

“We are facing a lot of difficulties trying to get our children back to normal,” says Eli R. Lebowitz, an associate professor at the Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine. Change rules for wearing masks And social distance causes confusion and fuels fear for some children, he says. And for children who have spent more than a year on distance learning Return to face-to-face school Autumn can be daunting. This is especially true for children who are socially anxious. Online learning is a welcome rest to escape the fights in the playground and the plays in the lunch room.

We talked to psychologists about how to help children recover from a pandemic year. Prepare for the new semester First. Their advice is as follows:

Providing accurate and age-appropriate information

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Camping guidelines In camps where not everyone is fully vaccinated, children can go outdoors with little mask, unless intimate contact persists in crowded conditions. The fully vaccinated person states that in most situations it is not necessary to wear a mask, indoors or outdoors. The directive prompted protocol changes everywhere, from grocery stores to sports for children. These shifts can be painful for children, says Dr. Lebowitz.

“We have taught children that social contact is dangerous and that everyone is a potential carrier of this virus and can kill grandparents. Suddenly, now it’s OK. I’m really confused, “he says.

Dr. Lebowitz encourages parents to speak “really positive and open” when explaining change in an age-appropriate way. For very young children, “This is what doctors are telling us to do, and this is a way to stay healthy,” said parenting for anxiety with colleagues. Dr. Lebowitz, who developed a treatment called support, says. At Childhood Emotions (SPACE), parents learn tactics that can reduce their child’s anxiety symptoms. For older children, parents can explain how scientists understand that the virus is much less likely to be transmitted outdoors. “The more children understand the request, the easier it is to adapt, rather than seeing it as arbitrary, arbitrary, and mysterious,” he says.

And if your child feels more comfortable wearing the mask outside, let them wear the mask. “Follow their level of comfort,” she says. ..

Identify the child’s core fear

when The child expresses fear Around the pandemic, “often it’s not really a Covid issue,” says Erika J. Vivyan, a psychologist in Austin, Texas. Instead, “I don’t want to see other kids because they may be mean to me, or what if I’m wearing the wrong thing or gaining or losing weight with Covid? ? ”She says.

From health and wellness

If you admit your child’s fear, admit it, says Paul Green, a clinical psychologist in New York. “Don’t deny the children’s anxiety. Listen to them, empathize, and ensure that this is something they can deal with.” Skipping the empathy step, “Children listen. You’ll feel like you’ve never been. They may find your advice unreliable and even feel a little uncomfortable about yourself, “he says.

Studies show that labeling emotions such as sadness and anxiety can suppress those emotions, says Richard Batia, a psychiatrist in Santa Rosa, California. “Identifying emotions is an important first step in processing and coping with emotions,” she says.

Prioritize social connections

For more than a year of distance learning and social isolation, some children have weakened friendships and atrophied social skills. But friendship is very important for a child’s development and emotional well-being, says Mary Albert, a psychologist at Chevy Chase, Maryland: “Regain them with friends and develop their support system. That’s really important, “says Dr. Alvord. By building strong social ties, she prepares for her fall academic success. “If they’re sad, depressed, or anxious, it’s difficult to focus enough of their brain space,” she says.

Dr. Ehrenreich-May is for patients, especially those with social anxiety disorder. Join the camp Or summer school.

Practice for next semester

Dr. Lebowitz of Yale University encourages parents to use this summer to “set the stage for the actions they want to see during the school year.” Try to solve different challenges so that everything doesn’t happen on the first day of school. For example, if parents and children are together most of the time during a pandemic, he says, “practice spending time apart.” Play date face-to-face so your children get used to socializing.

Even if you can’t go to school, visit school, especially if your child is migrating to a new one, says Dr. Alvord. “Walk around the premises and get used to the route. The more you know, the more control you have and the less anxious you are,” she says. See if you can schedule a Zoom call with your child’s new teacher.

Focus on the basics

In many homes Sleep schedule, Exercise routine And Screen time rules I took a break during the pandemic. Dr. Alvord says it’s time to get them back. Late bedtime and poor sleep are associated with anxiety in children. Exercise can improve your mood.

Teach and model proactive coping strategies

When children are stressed or overwhelmed, Positive self talkSays Erlanger A. Turner, an assistant professor of psychology at Pepperdine University. Dr. Turner, the founder of Therapy for Black, told himself, “This is difficult. I’m not going to overcome it.” “It’s difficult now, but it’s okay.” February children.

He also proposes to have the children identify what they are grateful for. Expressing gratitude, “it helps promote positive well-being, reduce anxiety, and reduce the symptoms of depression,” says Dr. Turner.

Dr. Bhatia proposes a mindfulness and relaxation strategy that children can use when anxiety grows. Small children can practice a “spaghetti body” that relaxes muscles. Older children can do simple breathing exercises. Inhale slowly through your nose with 4 counts. Hold your breath for 4 seconds and then exhale slowly for 4 seconds.

Parents also need to deal with their own anxieties. That’s because “it’s transmitted to children without even using words,” says Anne Marie Albano, a professor of medical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center in New York. Psychologists recommend contacting a pediatrician or being evaluated by a mental health professional if parents are worried about how to deal with their child, or if anxiety interferes with their child’s functioning. To do.

Write to Andrea Petersen andrea.petersen@wsj.com

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Helping children manage anxiety and return to activities this summer

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