Strategies for Parents: How to Manage Your Child’s Heightened Anxiety & Stress

In today's fast-paced world, where technology often takes center stage, the importance of supporting your children’s mental health on a daily basis is often overlooked. We know that young people in the United States—and around the globe—are currently facing a mental health epidemic. According to our United in Empathy Report, over 1 in 3 Crisis Text Line texters discussed anxiety and stress, which became the top issues in our conversations for the year, followed by relationships, depression and sadness, suicide, and isolation and loneliness.  

Children are not immune to the pressures and stressors that can lead to anxiety. As parents, one powerful tool we have at our disposal is to help our kids manage these feelings through improved social connection. Building and maintaining strong social connections can significantly reduce feelings of isolation and anxiety in children. Below, we delve into why social connection is so essential, and provide tips on how to help your children manage their anxiety and stress.

Social Connection: More Than Just Being Social

Social connection means being close and connected to others. From this connection, we derive feelings of value, love and belonging. In fact, we are biologically designed to connect with others. Our relationships begin at birth with the foundational connection to our parents or caregivers and set the stage for secure attachments later in life. The benefits have been shown to support our mind, body and spirit. Positive social connections: 

  • Enhance Mental Health: Social connections can significantly impact our mental health. Research has consistently shown that people with strong social ties have lower rates of anxiety and depression.  For example, we recently completed a study with Common Good Labs that identified six resources adolescents need most from their communities in moments of mental health distress. Social connection rose to the top. In-person interactions with others, sharing experiences, and receiving emotional support can provide a buffer against stress and improve overall psychological well-being. If there are specific people that your child enjoys spending time with, encourage those opportunities.
  • Boost Emotional Well-being: Having meaningful relationships can enhance our emotional resilience. Sharing our joys, sorrows, and challenges with others helps us process our emotions better. A supportive network can offer comfort, empathy, and encouragement during tough times, making us feel valued and understood. Your child may not feel comfortable sharing everything with you as their parent. Check in to see if there is some other trusted adult that can lend an ear or a supportive shoulder.
  • Improve Physical Health: Believe it or not, social connection can also influence our physical health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), social connectedness can lead to a longer life, better health and improved well-being. People with strong social ties tend to live longer, have healthier hearts, and recover from illnesses more quickly. Having a robust social network can encourage healthy behaviors, provide motivation for physical activity, and even boost our immune system. A strong social network can help mitigate the inflammatory responses of daily stressors. 

How to Assist Your Child with Anxiety and Stress

As parents, our children's well-being is always a top priority. While some level of stress or anxiety is a normal part of life, it's essential to recognize when these feelings become overwhelming for our young people. Recognizing and addressing your child’s heightened anxiety and stress is crucial for their overall mental health and happiness. The ability to process these feelings with a trusted adult helps to build resilience. Here are some strategies to help you manage your children’s  heightened anxiety and stress effectively.

  • Open Communication: Encourage open and honest communication with your child. Let them know that it’s okay to express their feelings and concerns. Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where they feel comfortable sharing their worries with you. Listen attentively and validate their feelings, showing empathy and understanding.
  • Educate Them About Anxiety: Help your child understand what anxiety is and how it affects their body and mind. Use age-appropriate language and examples to explain the concept of anxiety. Teach them coping strategies and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness exercises. Knowledge is power, and understanding anxiety can help your child feel more in control.
  • Establish Routine and Structure: Children thrive on routine and structure as it provides them with a sense of stability and predictability. Create a daily routine that includes regular meal times, bedtime, and homework schedules. Make sure to include time for relaxation, play, and physical activity. A well-balanced routine can help reduce anxiety and stress by providing a sense of order and control.
  • Limit Exposure to Stressful Situations: While it’s impossible to shield your child from all stressful situations, you can limit their exposure to unnecessary stressors. Monitor their screen time and social media use, as excessive exposure can contribute to anxiety and stress. Be mindful of their academic workload and extracurricular activities, ensuring they have time to relax and recharge.
  • Attend to Your Own Mental Health: Parenting takes work, it is not easy. Your child can quickly pick up on your mood and sense of well-being. Thus, make sure to “put your oxygen mask on first” and practice self-care and wellness so that you can be the best parent possible. 
  • Seek Professional Help When Needed: If your child’s anxiety and stress persist or interfere with their daily life, feel free to refer them to Crisis Text Line– a free, 24/7, confidential mental health support service. Just text HELLO to 741741 to reach a live volunteer Crisis Counselor. Also don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can provide additional support and guidance. They can help identify underlying issues and develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to your child’s needs.

Managing your kid’s heightened anxiety and stress requires patience, understanding, and proactive intervention. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey. Seeking support from family, friends, and professionals can help your child thrive and flourish.  

Written by

Dr. Shairi Turner

Shairi R. Turner MD, MPH serves as the Chief Health Officer at Crisis Text Line leading the organization’s external policy, advocacy and partnership initiatives related to mental health. She is an internist and pediatrician with expertise in trauma-informed practices. She originally joined Crisis Text Line as the Chief Medical Officer leading the Crisis Supervision Team (2017-2019) and returned in 2020 as Chief Transformation Officer, responsible for guiding the organization’s culture transformation focused on embedding equity throughout the organization. Throughout her career, she has been committed to addressing the mental health epidemic. Dr. Turner has been a featured expert in numerous top-tier and regional media networks such as NBC’s Meet the Press, Scripps News, Good Day DC, CNN, iHeart Radio Podcast with Michelle Williams, Good Day Seattle, HuffPost, to name a few. She also was a co-Host of NIKE’s acclaimed No Off Season podcast series. She is married and the mother of two pre-Med college students.