As the coronavirus pandemic continues and we all settle into new routines, chances are that you and your family are experiencing some stress and anxiety around the state of the world and the uncertainty that comes with it. This situation can be especially challenging if your child is already dealing with high levels of anxiety and/or a diagnosed anxiety disorder. Plus, it can be tough to help kids stay calm when you’re not feeling so calm yourself!
But while online learning and guiding children’s education at home are certainly unfamiliar hurdles for many families, the good news is that they can also be great vehicles for practicing anxiety management. There are lots of helpful tools out there for helping manage children’s anxiety, but it can be hard to find ways to actually practice them in day-to-day life. By making the most of your child’s new at-home school day, you can build anxiety management into daily routines and help your child develop healthy habits that will be help them keep their cool for years to come.
Set Daily Intentions
Studies show that children tend to benefit when they have clear—and high!—expectations to live up to. That doesn’t mean that you need to hold your child to an unrealistically high standard, but it does mean that they should know what’s expected of them each and every day. This is especially true now, when the lack of commitments outside the home can make kids feel like the days are all the same and the stakes are low. In turn, that sense of not knowing what to expect can exacerbate kids’ anxiety.
Accordingly, one helpful anxiety management technique is to start each school day with a predictable ritual that makes it clear what the rest of the day will hold. This should include a few key components:
- A quick review of what the day’s schedule will look like. What will your child do first? When will they take a break? What time is lunch?
- A rundown of the tasks that will be completed. This might be a concrete goal (finish chapter 3, for instance) or a set amount of time devoted to a topic (read for 30 minutes).
- An assessment of what supplies will be needed, and where your child can find them. Will they need a calculator, markers, or a timer? Work together to gather those supplies now so that your child doesn’t have to waste worry looking for them later.
Then, it’s also helpful to include a “bonus” in your child’s morning ritual, so that they—and you!—remember that the day can be as much about fun as anything else. Be creative here—what does your child enjoy and find exciting? This could be reading a bit of a favorite book, spending time playing with a pet, or checking on the plants growing on your terrace. Any quick activity that brings calm and focus to your child’s morning is a great way to start off the school day on the right foot.
Make the Most of Breaks
Having enough time to just breathe is a huge part of effective anxiety management. If your child feels pressured to focus and achieve every minute of the day, they’re likely to have higher levels of anxiety—especially now, when they might be scared about the pandemic and having difficulty processing their feelings.
That’s why it’s essential to take plenty of breaks during the remote school day. Depending on your child’s age and personality, you might schedule short breaks in between subjects, have one longer break in the middle of the day, or try a 50/50 model—for instance, 30 minutes of work followed by 30 minutes of play. Experiment with different break structures and see which one works best for your child. You can even use different structures on different days to break up the week; maybe one structure is for Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while another is for Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Beyond just taking breaks, it’s also important to build anxiety management tools into your child’s breaks as much as you can. They might just want to reach for an iPad game—and sometimes, that’s completely okay! But you’ll also want to encourage them to use more focused stress-busting activities when you can. For example, this might include:
- Having a quick dance party to a favorite song—music and physical activity can both help relieve anxiety!
- Taking a walk outside or even just sitting by a window for some fresh air and sunshine.
- Spending a bit of time on a creative project, whether that’s playing with clay for a few minutes or coloring in a drawing page.
- “Meeting up” with a friend for a FaceTime snack break. Kids need to keep in touch with their loved ones just as much as you do!
By being purposeful about breaks and what your child does with them, you’ll make anxiety management a regular touchpoint throughout the day.
Celebrate Small Wins
During these unprecedented days of remote learning, it can be hard to know whether you and your family are “doing it right.” But rest assured—there’s no one right way to handle this situation! It’s important to emphasize this point to your children, whether they’re used to getting straight As or struggling with the new requirements of online learning. Just by getting through the days during this uncertain time, kids and families alike are reaching a meaningful goal that deserves to be celebrated, and marking achievements (even ones that might seem small) is another great way to practice anxiety management.
To do this, try closing out your child’s school day with a rundown of what went well that day. These might be academic milestones, like a good grade on an online quiz, but it’s also helpful to guide your child in celebrating other kinds of success. For instance, did your child demonstrate any of these positive behaviors today?
- Sticking with a challenging task
- Helping out around the house
- Caring for a pet or sibling
- Coming up with a creative idea
- Being quiet or focused when asked
Any chance you have to compliment your child and focus on how they’re succeeding is a chance to support anxiety management, so make this a daily habit to round out the school day on a positive note.
It’s an overwhelming time for most of us, and anxiety management is really critical. If there are any ways our team can help to support your family with online learning, school planning, or parent coaching, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
By Hannah Sheldon-Dean, MSW and Private Tutor, Brad Hoffman, MS.Ed. and CEP, and Faya Hoffman, M.A. and CEP
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