Written by Colleen Kessler of Raising Lifelong Learners
These are strange times, friend.
Strange times, indeed.
Your state may have just issued a “shelter in place” edict. Maybe all of the restaurants near you are closed down. Your kiddos can’t see their friends and all their regularly scheduled activities are now happening via Skype, Zoom, or not at all.
They’re reeling, and so are you.
If you have kids who struggle with anxiety, then you may be struggling even more than your neighbor down the street who was just thrust into homeschooling for the very first time.
Anxiety is sneaky and it works even after you think it’s done.
So how can we calm our anxious kiddo’s worries during times of pandemic, stress, or a disruption to their schedule?
Kids who are prone to anxiety have a flight-flee-freeze response that is always on high alert. Their bodies are literally waiting for impending doom all. the. time.
In times of pandemic, social distancing, and rules changing daily like the times we’re currently living in, our anxious kiddos don’t get time to regroup. We need to help them.
1. Validate and Empathize
Our anxious kiddos’ feelings are totally valid, friends. They are normal and right and true. And, our kids need to know that.
It’s important that we validate their thoughts, fears, and feelings when they share them with us, and that we empathize with them, too.
“I hear you telling me that you’re worried you’ll never see your friends again. I totally understand how hard it is to have to change up everything we do for something like this. I feel sad I had to reschedule my dinner out with my friend, too, but right now we need to do all we can and be responsible. It’ll pass. We just have to find new ways to have fun for now.”
Make sure your kids feel heard and understood. Share some of your own thoughts, too.
2. Build a Toolbox
I don’t mean a physical toolbox filled with gadgets and doohickies… I mean that, when we have an anxious kid, we need to have a slew of strategies at our fingertips.
We need to know how to calm a meltdown.
We need tricks to distract our kiddos from their worries.
We need ways to help them process BIG thoughts.
I use a simple card deck I created called The Anxiety Toolkit to help me remember the strategies and ideas that work for my kiddo with generalized anxiety disorder when I’m in the moment.
It’s a poker-sized deck of cards, connected by a metal ring, that fits anywhere I need to take it. (I have one in my daughter’s room, one in my purse, and another in our school room.)
Strategies when I’m at home include things like applying deep pressure by wrapping my daughter up, burrito-style, in a blanket or stopping what we’re doing to draw and tear up our worries.
At bedtime we listen to calming music or stories, use essential oils and soft lights, and journal our thoughts in a notebook.
We also practice mindfulness strategies like deep breathing so that my daughter can learn to recognize the physical feelings of anxiety in her body and can start to notice patterns.
The more strategies you have in place, the easier it is to help your kiddo out when you’re stuck in a tense situation.
3. Recognize Your Own Anxiety
Apples don’t fall far from trees, friends, and if your kiddos struggle with anxiety, chances are you or your spouse do too. It’s important to recognize your own stressors, triggers, and responses so that you can help your kids manage theirs.
It’s so true that our kids feed off our energy (or lack thereof) and if we’re not on the top of our game, they’ll feel that.
Plus, when we’re not feeling well, our kids are going to feel that and worry more.
When my anxiety spikes, my asthma gets triggered. Now, my asthma is bad — it started when I was young as exercise and stress induced, but after a severe bout of asthmatic bronchitis when I was in my late 20s, I was left with scarring in my lungs.
It’s bad when it flares. In fact, my doctor has me keep a dose of prednisone on hand so that if I start needing my nebulizer more than a few times in a week, I can get started on treatment while I wait to get into see him so I don’t have to end up in the hospital.
These times are scary for me — because there is so much unknown (which triggers my anxiety AND my asthma) and because the current threat is a virus that hits the lungs.
I fully recognize that, and have talked with my kids about it, and have slowed WAY down. I need to control my own anxiety (and asthma) so that I can help my kids control theirs.
Recognizing the fear in yourself helps you empathize with your kids, too, as you help them through their fears.
4. Keep a Routine, But Have Fun Too
Anxious kiddos need structure, but that doesn’t mean they need their entire day scheduled out. Pick the essentials out — your homeschool must-dos — then have fun with the rest of your time.
Try a 3-hour day, take advantage of the many free opportunities that are floating about, challenge your kiddos to read across genres, try new things, and enjoy this enforced downtime.
Set up a daily routine your worries can flow into the rhythm of, and relax into it with them.
Anxiety is tough.
Childhood anxiety is brutal.
But, you’re not alone, and you will get through these weird times. I promise…and I’m right there with you.
What is working for you and your anxious kiddo right now?
What’s Your Homeschool Mom Personality? Take Jamie’s quiz now and receive a free personality report to help you organize your homeschool based on what your personality type needs most!