Acknowledging Our Children’s Anxiety Rather Than Dismissing It

University of Michigan Professor Keating offers advice to empower Generation Z

As parents, we want to protect our children. When they’re toddlers, we hold them close, assuring them there is no monster hiding under the bed. As they become adolescents, we share advice when they’re fighting with a friend and show empathy over a low-test grade. We understand these types of tribulations, having gone through them ourselves, and readily offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.

But what do we do when they come to us with worries over larger issues such as school shootings or climate change? When we were kids, we did not widely discuss these issues. In fact, they may be fears we hold as well.

Real fears our teens face

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in 2018 that included teens from the ages of 13-17 and their parents. The study revealed that 57 percent of teens are worried about a shooting at their school, with 25 percent of teens feeling very worried.

The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a poll last summer over attitudes concerning climate change, surveying adults as well as teenagers from the ages of 13-17. Their findings revealed that 57 percent of teenagers feel afraid when they think about climate change.

What we can do to alleviate stress

So how do we help ease our children’s worries when we don’t have concrete solutions? It may be tempting to alleviate their fears by telling them not to worry because a school shooting is unlikely, or that climate change is too big of an issue even to bother worrying over.

While that tactic is meant to provide comfort, simply telling them not to worry isn’t going to make the worry go away. This messaging negates our children’s feelings and can lead to a sense of learned helplessness, potentially developing into anxiety or even depression.

The reality is, many of our children’s fears are valid. As such, they need guidance on how to handle these fears. By merely dismissing them, we miss out on the opportunity to teach them how to cope effectively.

When children fear gobal problems, Professor Daniel Keating says it’s best to foster feelings of empowerment, not panic.
When children fear global problems, Professor Daniel Keating says it’s best to foster feelings of empowerment, not panic.

Daniel Keating, Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Pediatrics at the University of Michigan and author of the column, “Stressful Lives,” shares the following advice on how to foster a feeling of empowerment, rather than panic, in your child.

Acknowledge your child’s fears

It’s important to acknowledge the reality of your child’s feelings. Don’t dismiss them as unusual or unnecessary. This might not be particularly reassuring, but it’s better than denial. Teach them resilience, the ability to recover quickly from stress, in the face of fears.

adult-dark-depressed-face-262218_150Encourage your child to take action

Often, we might think that individual efforts are doomed; we can’t do anything about it, so why try? However, individuals making choices can, over time, lead to cultural shifts. For example, a lot of evidence shows that cigarette smoking becoming culturally unacceptable began with individual choices that developed into a new culture.

Similarly, a child with fears about climate change can make an individual choice to put a plastic bottle in the recycling bin. This may not, in and of itself, be a huge impact, but it does create a different cultural set of beliefs of how people can make a change.

Help your child connect with others

Making social connections is a powerful way to alleviate fear and build resilience. If children can connect with others around the issues that concern them, it creates a sense of empowerment and helps to foster meaningful relationships around a unified cause.

Teach your child to be mindful

Be mindful of what’s actually going on. Complete descent into hopelessness is not warranted or useful. Even though certain issues might feel dire, efforts are not hopeless. It’s important to acknowledge the possibility of change.

Practice mindfulness with your child. Enjoy time together. Be in the present moment, focusing on what you do have control over.

Empowering Generation Z

Professor Keating shares, “These global issues are going to fall particularly heaviest on Gen Z in terms of trying to come up with solutions. However, there’s also a lot of meaningful energy.”

In regards to climate change specifically, Professor Keating states, “If adolescents can get encouragement from the fact that ‘we didn’t cause these problems, but we’re going to fix it,’ that can be empowering too.”

We are raising Generation Z. It’s up to us to ensure we are raising them to be a generation that feels empowered to make a positive difference, one individual decision at a time.

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