3. Think Developmentally
School-age children (ages 7-12) may have different anxieties about a situation than a teen (ages 13-18) or young adult.
Younger children are more concerned about their daily routines and activities. They also tend to see the world in concrete black and white terms. They often need simple explanations about what is going on and a clear statement that you, the parent or caregiver, will be there to protect them. They do not need to be swamped with news and information. For them, it is best to turn the TV and digital media off.
Teens and young adults think with more complexity. They can see beyond the here and now, and may worry about the impact of a situation on their life in the weeks ahead or even years from now. They may be concerned about a situation’s effect on their family, friends, community, or the earth.
For them, it may help to sit with them in front of the TV or computer and learn together about the situation in the news. Or if it is a local event, such as cyberbullying or a sudden death, have an in-depth conversation about what’s been happening. Older children and young adults need to process a situation, and this is best done through conversation.
4. Validate Feelings and Concerns
Kids of all ages need to know that you take their anxiety seriously and acknowledge how much it means to them. Whether it is rational or irrational, it is the reality of what your child is feeling and thinking. Try to uncover their feelings and concerns, and let them know that you understand and appreciate what they are feeling. Then you can have a conversation about the situation in a way that can help reduce their anxiety.
5. Encourage Peer Support
Kids, especially teens and young adults with situational anxiety, often want to talk with friends about their concerns. Peer support has been shown to be very helpful in managing anxiety and is often best accomplished under the supervision of a trusted adult , lest the conversation escalates and increases anxiety.
Ask your child if they would like to talk with their friends and a trusted adult. Then, consider which adult could best provide guidance. This might be you or another parent, a valued teacher, coach, community leader, or member of your spiritual community.
6. Help Identify Self-Care Activities
Kids, as well as adults, benefit from activities that promote resilience and well-being. This includes getting good amounts of sleep and exercise. For all of us, a variety of activities may be helpful, such as the ones noted above for parents. The Clay Center has videos on Self-Care for Middle School, High School, and College along with a Tool Kit that may be used at home or in school to facilitate discussion.
7. Provide Perspective and Reassurance
All kids need to know that no matter the situation, there are ways to meet the challenge. For any particular situation, one strategy may naturally be better than another, but in general, we want to help them feel confident that something can be done. It is often helpful to think of a family story in which a significant hardship was overcome:
“Remember when Grandma died?” or “Remember when the hurricane hit us, and a tree fell on the house?” “We all stuck together, and with the help and support of our family and friends, we got through it.” Narratives such as these provide a foundation for resilience and hope.
8. Seek Professional Help
There are times when many of the above measures are insufficient to quell situational anxiety. It may be that your child is struggling with other mental health problems such as depression, an anxiety disorder, or a developmental disorder that make it very hard to bounce back. Or your child may be the kind of kid who is already anxious, moody, or rigid in thinking and gets “stuck” emotionally or in certain ways of thinking.
In these cases, professional help is invaluable. Talk with your pediatrician and get a referral to a mental health professional who can do a comprehensive evaluation and suggest a treatment plan. There are many effective treatments for anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy, other types of individual psychotherapy, family therapy, group therapy, and medications.
The bottom line is this: at some time or another, we all face difficult situations in our communities and around the world. With thoughtful, sensitive attention to the specific worries and concerns of our kids, we can help ease their current situational anxiety and lay an important foundation to deal with situational anxiety in the future.
This article originally appeared on and was written by the author (Dr. Gene Beresin) for the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds. Republished with permission.