The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.
“I’m just tired” is something we tend to say when our mom asks us “what’s wrong?” But what if I told you that there could lay thousands of emotions behind that “tired”? While it may just be an excuse to not tell your mom about how you’re feeling, sometimes tiredness indicates something else. It could mean you’re stressed, but you just don’t know that stress causes tiredness.
Even when kids are aware that they’re stressed or anxious, they may decide to hide it, which prevents them from getting help. National surveys in the UK, Australia, and the USA have estimated that only 25–56% of children and adolescents with mental health disorders access specialist mental health services. This isn’t surprising giving that psychotherapy is still stigmatized, and often stigmatized by one’s parent. Thus, you need to be able to get help in alleviating your stress and anxiety with your parent and be open to talking to them about taking you to a therapist.
For a parent who knows their child very well, “unusual” behaviour is quite discernible. Speaking to a parent, she told me that it was quite easy for her to spot when her son was anxious as he’d start to corner himself. However, it’s not just “unusual behaviour” that is an indicator, but also other symptoms that may often remain unrecognized by parents.
Some common identifiable symptoms of anxiety are sweating, restlessness, fidgety behaviour, trembling or shaking and rapid breathing or shortness of breath. It isn’t uncommon for parents to overlook these symptoms or attribute them to other things. Hence, parents need to research and read about the different symptoms of anxiety and stress so they can better identify if it’s happening. Perhaps both you and your parent could do this activity together.
Once your parent is aware that you’re anxious, there’s a vast multitude of solutions they can use to calm you or help you de-stress. While active communication is necessary and quite often helps, speaking up even about a slight matter may be nerve-wracking for an anxious child, and hence may even increase anxiety instead of reducing it. Speaking to another parent, she told me that telling her children to talk about their worries and assuring them that “it’s okay to feel this way” is what helped the most.
Undoubtedly, a strained parent-child relationship can lead to increased anxiety levels for both the parent and the child. So, as parents, one must encourage constructive conversations regularly and mustn’t dismiss the frightfulness of a child as a ‘phase’. A good way to improve communication with one’s child is to show them that their thoughts and feelings are valued and be a listening ear.
A 2013 study from the Baptist Medical Center found that meditation reduced anxiety ratings amongst 15 healthy volunteers with normal levels of everyday anxiety by as much as 39%. Parents could set 15-minute meditation sessions with their children, or encourage them to practice mindfulness daily. Considering that mindfulness is one of the best ways to cope up with stress, implementing it into one’s child’s daily routine – from a young age – could be very helpful.
Speaking to a few parents also made me realize that pressurizing or controlling one’s child never works, and probably only worsens the child’s anxiety. According to a 2019 article on “The Dangers of Putting too Much Pressure on Kids” by Amy Morin, “Kids who feel like they’re under constant pressure may experience constant anxiety. High amounts of stress can also place children at a greater risk of developing depression or other mental health issues”. Parents need to understand that their child is an individual of their own, and will undoubtedly act up if they feel like they are being controlled. So, for example, instead of saying “you need to get 100/100 this time”, a few sentences of encouragement and support like “you did your best” or “you got this” may work better.
As someone suffering from anxiety, I can tell you that hearing phrases like ‘just snap out of it’ and ‘it’s not that big of a deal as you’re making of it’ do nothing but make my anxiety worse. Considering that, parents need to research and learn about phrases that an anxious person would and wouldn’t like to hear. One may think phrases like “everyone has anxiety” and “get over it” help an anxious person. But they don’t. It is time parents start being mentors, counsellors and friends to their children rather than just an authority figure or a guardian. Kids should also explain to parents what language motivates and demotivates them.
When children learn to set priorities and create task lists early on, they’re not only learning an important skill but also helping to alleviate their stress. Scheduling helps to break the uncertainty of not having set tasks (which often causes anxiety) and organize one’s thoughts. While there are a plethora of scheduling techniques available online ranging from monthly schedules to daily to-do lists, finding what’s best for you will involve some trial and error. You could sit with your parents and make daily to-do lists or create an online calendar with set tasks to learn the art of scheduling.
We often tend to get the best out of something when someone helps us, and hence, it would be a good option for parents to tune in and help their children organize their thoughts. In fact, a study by Dr Michael Scullin, from Baylor University in Texas also showed that those who wrote detailed to-do lists got to sleep 15 minutes quicker than everyone else who didn’t. Having experimented with various kinds of schedules, I can say that they effectively reduce my anxiety, and it works best when my mom helps.
In such uncertain times, it is important for parents to step up and lend a helping hand, starting off by asking us if we need help. After all, as Peter Ustinov said, “parents are the bones on which children cut their teeth”