Guest Post by Tracy Dunne-Derrell, writer at Teach.com
One hundred years from now, America in 2017 will exist only in history books. Those future writers will have plenty of material to work with: mass shootings, terrorism fears, international turmoil, and “fake news.” But those facts probably won’t capture the anxiety that’s been generated by these events. A poll conducted earlier this year by the American Psychological Association found more than half of American adults cited the current political climate as a source of stress.
Children are feeling anxious too. A recent UCLA survey found that 51% of teachers reported more anxiety among their students. As a parent, the past year may have presented you with unique challenges as your children grappled with a range of emotions- from general anxiety to personal stress over the impact potential policies could have on them and their friends. You may have a child who’s finding that current events are causing anxiety, and are struggling to figure out how to best provide support.
As an adult, you might be experiencing negative feelings too, but you have the advantage of being able to channel them productively by contacting elected officials and engaging in activism and service. And you’re more likely to have developed meaningful ways to help yourself get through uncertain, difficult times. But your children might not be able to grasp the concepts that are troubling and confusing to them, and they may lack the skills they need to identify and cope with their feelings. Here are some ways to help them.
1. Listen, but accept that you might not always have good answers.
As a parent, you may be tempted to help by dismissing and downplaying the concerns and worries of your anxious child. But this approach, while well-intentioned, isn’t helpful. Validating kids’ concerns and making sure they understand that it’s ok to feel what they’re feeling is important. And unfortunately, you can’t magically erase the sources of stress for them. But you can be a sympathetic ear, and make a point to spend a little time each day talking to them about their concerns. Help them develop coping skills, which won’t eliminate the sources of negative feelings, but will help them learn to work through them. The ability to cope with challenging times is a necessary life skill.
2. Help them take action.
With so much beyond their control, your kids may find themselves feeling powerless. They might want to do something to distract them from their fears and help them feel like they’re contributing to the world in a positive way. Some adults are channeling their concerns into helping others, and there are ways children can do the same. Talk with them about some of the needs they observe in your community, and help them think of ways to address them. Young children can choose items from the grocery store to donate to a local food pantry, while older ones can join service-oriented local organizations, or look for a project to support, like a winter coat drive. Even small actions help students feel like they matter, and lead to a life-long involvement with community service.
3. Connect with the school counselor.
Kids spend a substantial amount of time in school, and their counselors are a valuable resource. School counselors are already trained to help students learn to manage a wide range of situations and challenges. And they’ve got ample materials to help them work with students who are living with political anxiety. Last year the American School Counselor Association published a guide for counselors, with suggestions for supporting children experiencing post-election stress. Sitting down with a school counselor could be a great opportunity for your child to share his or her fears with a trained professional. Ask for ideas and strategies to use at home to talk about current events, and the feelings these events generate.
4. Examine the impact of technology.
News and social media might play a role in fostering negative feelings. Escaping bad news used to be as easy as turning off the television and radio. Now, with 24-hour cable channels, mobile apps, and social media, it’s almost impossible to get a break from current events. Consider the role screen time with televisions and gadgets may be playing in your child’s politics-related stress. Evaluate the amount of time your child spends watching and reading news, and discuss alternative activities which may help them manage their stress.
5. Talk about previous times our country experienced turmoil and got through it.
It feels like we’re going through unprecedented uncertainty, but America has faced crisis before, more than once. Our country has survived wars, recessions, and natural disasters. Your children likely have some awareness of challenging times in our history, but events of long ago probably feel abstract to them; they may not be able to connect past and present. Depending on your age, you may have your own personal stories to share which might resonate with your anxious children and help them feel more optimistic. For example, during the 1970s, Watergate dominated the news, and led to concerns about government. In the 1980s, the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union generated fears as both countries and their allies engaged in an arms race, generating legitimate concerns over the possibility of nuclear war. Share your stories and take this opportunity to talk with your kids about America’s resilience.
Providing support for anxious kids is challenging, but it is possible. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, and are the best person to help them manage stress and anxiety. However, if you need some outside support to help your child, you can check your child’s school for resources, and reach out to outside resources, like local therapists, as well.
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