Anxiety, ADHD, behavior problems and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children. In fact, almost 10% of kids aged 3-17 have been diagnosed with anxiety.1
Back-to-school anxiety after a long summer break is very common among children. Anxiety can manifest in various forms, including being separated from parents/pets (separation anxiety), as a phobia of new places and people (social anxiety), of worry about the future and with physical symptoms.
As parents, it’s important to understand how common childhood anxiety is and to acquire tools to use when dealing with anxiety at home. We want our children to have a secure and loving environment where they feel safe, so let’s equip ourselves to help them when they head back to school.
1. Encourage Open Communication
In our household, we prioritize open communication. Creating an atmosphere where our children feel safe to express their feelings and concerns is essential for addressing anxiety. Let your children know it's okay to talk about their worries, and listen attentively without judgment when they do. Use this as an opportunity to remind them of verses like Phil. 4:6-7, which encourages us not to be anxious but to pray and present our requests to God, trusting in His peace that surpasses all understanding.
2. Lead by Example
Children learn a lot by watching our behavior, don’t they? As parents, we must model healthy ways of coping with stress and anxiety. Show them how you pray, meditate on scripture, practice deep breathing and self-care. Let them see you dealing with stress and anxiety in healthy ways. By doing so, we give them tools and teach them resilience and the power of faith in dealing with their own anxiety and stress.
3. Establish a Routine
We have learned a structured routine helps all of us, as anxiety can be exacerbated by uncertainty. Having a consistent daily routine can bring a sense of stability and security to family life. When we can incorporate prayer, devotions and family Bible studies into the daily schedule, this helps instill a strong foundation of faith and provides children with a spiritual anchor to lean on during anxious moments.
4. Promote a Healthy Lifestyle
My husband has his master's degree in marriage and family therapy. He is always learning and sharing about brain health and emotional intelligence, and encouraging the whole family to live healthfully. Physical health is closely tied to mental and emotional well-being. Encourage your children to engage in regular physical activities, eat nourishing foods and get enough sleep. Additionally, teach them the importance of spending time outdoors, appreciating God's creation and finding moments of peace and reflection in nature.
5. Practice Mindfulness and Prayerful Meditation
Mindfulness techniques can help children focus on the present moment, reducing anxiety about the future. In third grade my son learned about using deep breaths, rubbing his bands briskly together and giving himself a big hug as physical ways to ground himself when he’s feeling anxious. Combine these methods with prayerful meditation during which your children can reflect on Bible verses or uplifting messages. Psalm 46:10 reminds us to "be still and know that I am God," offering a powerful reminder of God's presence and control over our lives.
6. Combat Negative Thoughts with Positive Affirmations
Anxiety often leads to negative thinking patterns. We call that “stinkin’ thinkin’” in our home. Teach your children to counter these thoughts with positive affirmations rooted in scripture. Encourage them to repeat affirmations like, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13) whenever they feel overwhelmed.
7. Build a Supportive Community
A strong support system is invaluable in overcoming anxiety. We love to connect with our church community, small groups or Bible study circles so we and our children can build meaningful relationships and feel supported in times of anxiety. This sense of belonging reinforces the knowledge that they are not alone and God is always with us.
This back-to-school season we have the privilege and responsibility to continue to raise our children with love, compassion and faith. By incorporating these tools and strategies into our family lifestyle, we can provide a nurturing environment where our children feel equipped to healthfully deal with anxiety.
Remember to be patient, practice what you preach and rely on God's guidance every step of the way. With love, faith and God's grace, we can foster emotional well-being and a sense of peace which will carry our children successfully through life's challenges. And if your child’s anxiety gets unmanageable, see a professional. It’s okay to get help.