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Help kids build healthy minds

It’s important to stay on top of your child’s mental health and remove any stigmas surrounding stress or anxiety. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

School is out. Summer has arrived.

Pools and other gathering spots for summer fun have opened, as vaccination numbers rise and COVID-19 cases decline.

While things have begun to approach normal again, this past year of uncertainty has taken a toll on each of us, especially children.

In the bustle of everyday life, it can be easy to forget to ask your child, “How are you?”

This simple question can have a big impact. It can make a child feel safe and seen. It can signal that you are invested in your child’s emotional health.

Even when prompted, children can’t always verbalize what feels off or wrong.

Here are some ways to spot anxiety in children—and some tips to help you as you set out to help them:

Watch for signs

Be mindful of your child’s behaviors and moods, and recognize them as normal responses to difficult situations.

Here are some behaviors and changes you could expect to see in children:

Appearing fatigued or more tired than usual. If your previously active, sports-loving teen is suddenly sleeping a lot or sleeping at unusual hours of the day, it could be a sign of depression or anxiety. Lack of interest. If your teen is no longer interested in favorite activities or spending time with friends, it could indicate they’re struggling emotionally. Body aches, stomachaches, headaches. Feeling achy can be a psychosomatic manifestation of stress and anxiety. Difficulty sleeping. If your young child had previously slept well during the night but is now having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, it could be a warning sign. Separation anxiety or seeking additional comfort during the night. Difficulty concentrating or focusing. Breaks in continuity of learning—swapping back and forth from in-person learning to virtual learning, or even having internet connectivity issues—can make it hard for children to focus during and after school hours. Increased irritability. A loss of routine or a loss of predictability equates to a loss of feelings of safety. It can leave children feeling adrift and it can manifest as irritability, anger, hitting or tantrums. Set the tone

As parents, your words, actions and emotions set the tone in the house. It can be easy to forget that little ears hear everything. When you’re stressed or tired, those feelings can trickle down to your kids.

Make sure you practice self-care and address your own mental health through therapy, yoga, drinking extra water and doing whatever brings joy back into your day. If you have positive feelings and you’re able to relay hopeful messages about the future, it helps your children feel secure and it lessens their worries.

Keep communication open

Be creative about how you communicate with your children.

A simple place to start: Ask them how their day is going.

Just remember that verbal communication isn’t always the best method for all children. Some prefer to express themselves through activities other than talking, such as painting or drawing.

Also, check in with your child throughout their day. Ask them open-ended questions like, “Is anything worrying you?” or, “What are you looking forward to today?”

At dinner, get into the routine of asking them good questions: “What’s one good thing about your day? One struggle?”

This gives a peek into the day-to-day things you may miss and it gets everyone talking about the good and the bad.

Get enough sleep

Sleep is especially important in the summer. During warm nights and late sunsets, it’s easy to become lax with a sleep routine for yourself and your kids.

But kids crave routine. Sticking to a sleep schedule—even if the precise bedtime changes—can do wonders for mitigating stress.

Consider turning off all electronics 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. Dim the lights and read your kids a book in a low-stimulus space. This will help everyone relax their nervous system and, hopefully, make for a gentle night’s rest.

Just remember: Kids are resilient.

It can be easy to assume they’ll just “bounce back,” but it’s important to stay on top of a child’s mental health and remove any stigmas surrounding stress and anxiety.

If you see troubling signs of anxiety or concerning behavioral changes in your child, talk to your pediatrician or your family’s primary care provider. Pediatricians can screen for depression and spot physical symptoms associated with trouble coping with stress.

For additional resources check out this helpful infographic\.

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