HEALTHY MIND MATTERS

How to help kids cope with anxiety

Aug 14, 2023, 12:50 PM | Updated: 2:25 pm

The start of a school year can be an exciting time for kids, but some may feel a little anxious about it.

Here’s a look at the signs parents should look out for as they help their children navigate these challenges.

“They’re excited to meet new friends, they’re excited for all the new people, but they’re just nervous,” Nicole Kirkland said.

This school year will bring in some added anxiety for Kirkland’s two daughters since they moved from Utah to Idaho over the summer.

“We don’t know anything the teachers and the staff just yet,” Kirkland said.

Dr. Kristin Francis is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah.

“When people are anxious, they’re fearful and can be kind of irritable,” Francis said.

She said it’s normal for those feelings to last for a couple of days.

“But if you notice that your child doesn’t want to go to school, is complaining of stomach aches or headaches in the morning is real tearful, procrastinating, those are times that it’s really good to have a conversation about anxiety,” she said.

Processing their feelings sets them up to better manage their anxiety and change their behavior.

“We’ll talk to them about who their safety people are at school, who they can go talk to if they feel anxious or they’re nervous,” Kirkland said.

Francis said rewards can go a long way.

“It doesn’t have to be something you buy. It could be time with you. It could be whatever they find fun.”

If you’re not seeing any changes, Francis said to seek professional help.

“We have great therapists that can help coach your child actively with a plan, and coach you because you’re the one that needs support too,” she said.

Kirkland said if you feel like you’re not getting through to your child, keep trying and revisit the conversation another day.

“Last year was really hard for my daughter with anxiety and just topics in schools like earthquakes and dinosaurs and different things she would get really anxious about. So we just take it one day at a time things with pop-up that I wouldn’t expect or I would it be thinking about and so we just talk through it,” Kirkland said.

Francis said parents who model what to do with those feelings and are proactive and make their child feel like they’re taking on these fears together – that really helps them get through it.

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How to help kids cope with anxiety