Spring 2021: Time for Change
Spring is a time of awakening, when we are energized by seeing flowers begin to bloom, days getting longer, and the temperature rising. It’s the time of year when we start looking forward and start cleaning up after a long, and cold winter. I am always thoughtful around this time of year about what needs to be done. This spring, however, seems bittersweet. It marks the one year milestone for the pandemic. In my conversations with other parents, we have been remembering back to this time last year, when the world, as we knew it, changed drastically. We are grieving the loss of normality and the freedom of living without continuous fear. We are cautiously optimistic about the end of the numerous restrictions, yet concerned about the toll this year has had on our children’s emotional well being. Our to-do list this year is more about relationships and mending, than about cleaning and vacations.
Everyone keeps reminding parents of the natural resilience of young children, but many are still concerned about behaviors their children are exhibiting. They know that this year has presented challenges well beyond those of normal childhood and that resilience, like a muscle or skill can, and may need to be strengthened. Merriam-Webster defines resilience as “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” The magnitude of change our children have had to endure this year has made it much more difficult to bounce back from. These young children are dealing with uncertainty; fear of illness and loss; and changes in their schooling, homelife, extra curricular activities and interactions with friends.
Additionally, most children have never experienced the biological effects of their nervous system brought on by neurophysiological changes associated with stress. They are presenting physical symptoms:
- Decreased appetite
- Body Aches (stomach, head and chest)
- Unusual perspiration
- Dry mouth
These physical ailments lead parents and children to believe they are sick, which in turn causes more anxiety. This leads to increased emotional behaviors and irrational thoughts:
- Hyperactivity or the inability to relax
- Inability to control emotions (meltdowns/tantrums)
- Difficulty concentrating
- Clinginess, fear of attending school or going out in public
- Seeking of constant reassurance
- Picking or pulling at their bodies
- Self-doubt that damages self-esteem
- Excessive worry
- Negative self-talk
- Perceived irrational threats
I remind parents that anxiety is normal for all children as well as adults. However, it is considered not to be normal when it causes significant interference in their child’s life. The Anxiety Disorder Association of America reports that one in eight children and adults have anxiety disorders. By teaching children coping strategies and skills targeted at relaxing their body (PMR- progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery relaxation, deep breathing), changing their negative thoughts (positive self talk, how to identify and replace irrational thinking, differentiating between realistic and unrealistic thinking, self-esteem building), and addressing harmful behaviors (facing fears by stopping avoidance behaviors, understanding and eliminating nervous behaviors), they will build resilience and be empowered to take control of their emotions in a healthy way that will help them throughout their life. This is the greatest gift that any parent can give their anxious child in their life.
This spring, during this time of renewal, help your child to transform the way they feel by transforming the way they think!