Going back to school can be a worrying thing for students, especially those who are bullied. But in certain cities, where lockdowns have been lifted, the prolonged absence in schools can substantially heighten the social anxiety of children. Fortunately, there are steps parents can take to help their children handle the feeling.
The steps to address social anxiety for students returning to school were revealed by a lecturer at Edith Cowan University. These steps could significantly help students handle their anxiety and prevent the disorder from crippling their academic performance. At the same time, the measures could mitigate the adverse effects of anxiety on their physical wellbeing. The methods were posted in The Conversation, a not-for-profit media network.
Facts on Anxiety in Children
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health disorders experienced by people of all ages. Children and teenagers are susceptible to this condition because they have fears and worries, which are normal for everyone. Depending on their age and relevant factors, their fears and worries may be stronger than others. As such, children with persistent fears and worries can easily develop anxiety disorders. Also, anxiety itself can trigger depression if the person is hit by sadness due to their fears.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a US federal agency, children with anxiety usually exhibit distinct signs, such as being afraid when parents are away, being extremely scared about something, being worried about the future, and being struck by repeated waves of sudden, intense fear. These signs can indicate if the child has separation anxiety, phobias, social anxiety, general anxiety, or panic disorder. Each subtype of anxiety can be triggered by a unique stressor, either inside or outside their home or both.
In addition to feelings of fear and worry, children with anxiety can become angry and irritated. Because the stressor threatens them, their mental defense is aggression or violence in extreme cases. The defense allows them to temporarily dispel the stressor but the cycle is unlikely to be broken until properly addressed.
Based on a published study in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers analyzed the data from the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health to determine the prevalence of anxiety among children aged 3 to 17 years. They determined that 7.1% of children had anxiety, 7.4% had a conduct problem, and 3.2% had depression. Among those determined with anxiety, 45.2% had mild anxiety, 47.2% had moderate anxiety, and 7.6% had severe anxiety. Between genders, 6.9% of children with anxiety were males and 7.3% were females.
Helping Students with Anxiety
For young sufferers of anxiety, the lockdowns due to COVID-19 might have been heaven-sent, keeping them away from stressors. Those who were bullied in schools would likely want the lockdowns to continue. But going back to schools could not be avoided forever since classes have to resume at some point. The idea of that was probably dreadful to children with anxiety. If the symptoms are ignored, their physical wellbeing could suffer. Chronic anxiety could cause persistent inflammation, high blood pressure, and digestive problems.
Students who suffer from complications of anxiety could also perform badly in school. They might not be able to concentrate properly, not go to school regularly, and not engage in school activities. In the long run, these students would have poor academic standing because of their anxiety. But if parents intervened, they could improve the symptoms and prevent such an outcome.
"Anxiety can also increase through what psychologists call reduced tolerance. The more children withdraw from the situations that cause them fear, the less tolerance they have for those situations," said Mandie Shean, a lecturer from the School of Education at Edith Cowan University.
To overcome social anxiety, parents need to guide their children on how to recognize and resolve symptoms before things get out of hand. First, deal with the stress experienced by the body. It is difficult to handle other symptoms if the body is already busy with stress. Use calming techniques like breath control to reduce agitation. Some apps are available to help students practice these techniques.
Next, limit avoidance techniques to decrease the levels of anxiety. This is because the more a person avoids the stressor, the more they become intolerant of anxiety itself. So, the best way to overcome the stressor may be facing it. Avoidance techniques like not making eye contact or raising the hand to answer a question should be restricted. Though, parents must not allow their kids to challenge anxiety stressor head-to-head without guidance. Constant communication between the parties is needed to ensure that kids are doing it at their own pace.
Third, another way is to turn fears and worries into insights. Fears and worries are normal because they represent the care and concern of an individual. If a person does not care at all, they have nothing to fear or worry about. So, being afraid or feeling worried indicates a potential danger but the body does not have to succumb to the feeling. When fear or worry starts due to a nearby danger, the person needs to be mindful of being prepared, rather than running away or cowering without a definitive reason.
Fourth, know their threshold to prevent emotional crashes. This creates a balance between avoiding and challenging fears. If the person challenges a giant fear, they are at risk of huge failure in case things do not go their way. That failure may prevent them from trying again in the future. Thus, they must take baby steps in dealing with fears and worries. Fifth, recognize that supportive counseling and listening are inadequate. While these provide comfort and encouragement, both can also instill fear in a person. It is best to combine encouragement and application to gradually overcome one worry at a time.
Sixth, never guarantee that bad things will not happen. Bad things are a norm in life and they are designed to help people grow. Although most negative things help motivate people to become better, there are some who turn into worse versions of themselves. When criticism is handed over by a source, the anxiety sufferer must try to reframe the meaning of the critic. In common words, convert harsh criticism into constructive criticism. Be objective, not emotional, and extract the errors pointed by the criticism and make solutions to address them. Also, harsh criticism can be turned into funny moments.
And finally, perception changes what is deemed a threat. For some, criticism is an expression of someone who does not like something. For others, criticism is a harsh act of not appreciating someone or something. So, parents should avoid forcing their children to share their perceptions. They have to expose their children to positive experiences to help them build positive perceptions.