Updated: Mar 30
By Dr. Marika Berni, ND
Kids can get stressed too! With school back in full swing you may be dealing with some emotional ups and downs at home. The school year brings back hectic schedules, deadlines, and pressures to excel and social challenges. Perhaps your child did not get the teacher you had hoped for. The added stressors can result in your child experiencing moments of anxiety, irritability, mood fluctuations and sleep disturbances.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns for children and adults. This effect has an upward of 20% of children and adolescents over their lifespan.
Unfortunately, studies show that when children are exposed to stressful situations and prolonged anxiety, the stress can impair early learning and adversely effects later in school performance. This study shows that if children produce too much cortisol; a hormone our bodies secrete in response to stress, it impairs memory and learning. So how do you know if your child is suffering form anxiety?
Signs your child may be suffering from anxiety are:
Fidgety, amped up and/or unable to sit still
Muscle pains (often in the neck and shoulders)
Refusing to attend school field trips
Inability to make and maintain friendships due to fears
Less involved in activities and limited interests
Unusual or overly focused interests often related to areas of worry
Frequent checking about current affairs, becoming an expert on identifying diseases, etc.
Snapping at others
Difficulty paying attention or concentrating
Difficulty falling or staying asleep, or disturbed/interrupted sleep
Excessive or unreasonable list making
Refusal to go to school
Sourced from Anxiety Canada
If you have identified that your child may have some of these signs of anxiety, here are some suggestions on what you can do to support them.:
Ensure that your child is getting the fundamentals – Adequate sleep (9-10 hours), a well balanced diet low in sugar and processed foods in order to balance blood sugar levels, and regular exercise.
Test for deficiencies – You may want to have your ND or MD check your child’s iron, Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D levels. Low levels of these nutrients can result in fatigue and mood changes. Your child may get overwhelmed easily and struggle to keep up with their peers. Iron levels can particularly be affected in girls once they begin to menstruate. Vitamin D levels seem to be low in most children that I screen. According to Stats Canada 40% of Canadians have Vitamin D levels below the cut off of 50 nmol/L. Living in Canada means that the whole family needs to supplement daily from fall until spring!
Some acute remedies may help your child manage their symptoms and keep them under control such as L-Theanine chews, or milk peptide supplements. These can be especially helpful to ward off panic attacks or to occasionally help with sleep. If your child is very active or plays competitive sports consider regular Epsom Salt baths as a way to replenish much needed magnesium to promote relaxation and a deep, restful sleep.
Consider CBT – Cognitive behavoural therapy can give your child the tools they need to cope with the many stressors that life can bring.
Some good reading with tips to help you support and understand your child are:
Helping your Anxious Child – by Ronald Rapee PhD, Ann Wignall, Susan Spence, PhD
The Happy Kid Handbook – Katie Hurley, LCSW
Between Parent And Child – Dr Haim G Ginott
Yoga and breathing exercises can address the shallow breathing that accompanies anxiety and helps to turn off their sympathetic nervous system (which is part of our flight or flight stress response). Focusing on breathing or holding a pose can also distract your child from what they are worrying about. Start with a few simple poses or check out Today’s Parent cute yoga poses for kids – they all have animal names! If you have a teen at home consider signing them up for a weekly class at your local yoga studio. This study shows the benefits of yoga on children’s well being.
All children experience fears during childhood, including fear of the dark, monsters, and strangers. These fears are normal aspects of development and are temporary in nature. But if your child seems to experience anxiety more intensely than their peers or f it is stopping him or her from participating in typical childhood experiences seek out support from your doctor or naturopath.
Note: This is also a stressful time of year for parents as well! Follow all of the above tips to support your own mental well-being as well!
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