How to help if your kids developed anxiety during the pandemic

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MADISON, Wis. — The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on most people in one way or another over the last couple years, but more studies are finding children have had an especially hard time.

The combination of virtual school environments, a lack of extracurricular activities, and losing loved ones has led to an increase in anxiety and other mental health concerns in children and teens.

The National Institutes of Health says 1 in 500 kids has lost a parent or grandparent due to COVID-19, with children of color being affected the most. Even if a child didn’t lose a loved one, worrying about family members also contributed to the rise in anxiety.

“That is a lot for kids to handle; I am seeing a huge increase of anxiety disorders in my practice, especially during the last two years,” Dr. Mala Mathur of UW Health said. “If untreated, chronic anxiety can lead to serious problems like substance abuse, depression or even suicide.”

Many kids missed out on many things about childhood we may have taken for granted, Dr. Mathur says.

“The pandemic also interrupted sports, theater, music and other activities that children enjoyed,” she said. “It altered or eliminated milestone celebrations like birthdays, graduations, and prom, resulting in a sense of loss or grief for many children.”

If you think your child or a child in your life may be suffering from anxiety or depression, Dr. Mathur recommends some tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics, including:

  • Setting aside one-on-one time to connect with your child without screens. She says even 10 minutes a day of quality time can positively affect your child’s wellbeing.
  • Help your child manage their fears by asking how they are feeling and practicing deep breathing and mindfulness.
  • Help your child get regular exercise by playing outside or participating in sports, encourage healthy eating habits, and make sure they get plenty of sleep, because overall health can help mental health
  • If these tips don’t seem to be working, contact your child’s doctor, as well as teachers and guidance counselors so they can help manage your child’s anxiety at school.
  • Get help if you think a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or struggling with depression. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.