Danielle Lindner is a children’s book author and founder and CEO of The London Day School. Here she answers questions about political anxiety and children.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the news these days, however your children may be paying the price for your anxiety. If you feel like your child is being effected by current events or even your reaction to them, check out these tips on how to calm your anxiety and what to look for if you think your child is showing signs of anxiety.
Do children express their anxiety differently than adults do? What are some signs parents should look for? Yes, children will often express that they are feeling anxious by either becoming more withdrawn than usual or exhibiting behaviors out of character such as acting defiant, defensive, overly energetic, or active. An anxious child may also start to exhibit obsessive compulsive type behaviors that they haven’t shown before, such as needing to wash their hands a number of times, having to make sure they have turned the light off in their room more than once, or they may even develop a tick.
What can parents do to calm their own anxieties so they don’t rub off on their children? Parents can practice being mindful and living in the moment. They should try not to worry about the “What ifs” and focus on the here and now. It’s also helpful if parents can incorporate some type of healthy habit into their daily routine such as yoga or meditating for even 10 minutes each day. When children see parents taking time to “quiet their minds” they learn the value in doing so and it will become much easier for them to do naturally.
What do you say to your child if they witness adults arguing about politics? Can it be scary for little kids, since they don’t understand such things yet? With the current political climate, children are witnessing the adults around them arguing or heatedly discussing political issues, much more than before. The reality is that it really doesn’t matter to a young child what the topic of the argument is about. When a child sees adults upset, speaking in a heated or loud tone, or acting aggressively toward another person, it causes anxiety for that child. Children should not be exposed to that type of behavior. A child may not be able to differentiate two adults having a heated, but constructive argument about a topic, with them being angry at each other. They may become anxious that the conversation will escalate and become physical, which can be terrifying for a child.
If you notice that your child has been listening to your conversation, it is important to take a minute to sit down with them and discuss what they may have heard, and how that might have made them feel. Perhaps they weren’t focusing on your conversation at all, and you don’t need to highlight something that may not be concerning them. However, if they were listening, this is a good time to ask them how they are feeling, if they have any questions and reassure them that they are safe and you are not angry with them.
What’s the #1 bit of advice you give parents who tell you their child seems to be anxious? Reassure them that they are loved, safe and you are not worried about your safety or theirs. If they are very anxious, check with your pediatrician and make sure first and foremost that they are physically OK.
How can you calm anxieties in kids about the current political climate? Give them time to sit with you every night and talk about what makes them happy and what makes them sad. If they are most concerned with the current political climate and they are young children, talk about your values in your home, and keep the heated political discussions out of your child’s life. Little ones should feel safe and secure and should not be burdened with adult issues.
How do you answer specific questions about what children may see on the news? If a child sees something on the news and they ask a parent about it, the parent should be open and honest. Discuss what your values are as a family and what you do as a family to support the issue as you see fit. Do not tell your child that they should be afraid, concerned or upset. If your child is a bit older and they bring up a specific issue, such as the proposed wall being built along the Mexican border, immigration, etc., ask them what they are specifically concerned about, what their opinions are, and what they think they can do when they are an adult to create the world in which they want to live. Let them know that the world is always changing and as they grow, they will have the chance to be a part of those changes. If they are younger, have them draw pictures about what they are feeling, as a way to help those who may not have many words yet, express themselves and open up with an age appropriate dialogue.
Should you let your children watch the news? No, children under twelve shouldn’t be watching the news. They should be getting any important information from their parents and their teachers who can decide what is important and what is not necessary. Recently there was a news story about a shooting that took place in a Florida airport. Unfortunately, the program my younger daughter was watching was interrupted by the breaking news story and it was impossible for me to intercept it. She was obviously upset and told me that she didn’t want to go on our family vacation to Florida because she was too scared to go to the airport. Parents are faced with these issues on a daily basis and it is how we choose to react to them that will either alleviate or exacerbate our child’s anxiety. I found that it was important to talk to my daughter about the fact that terrible things like this can happen, but they are isolated incidents and that the important thing to focus on were all of the wonderful “helpers.” All of the good people who came to the aid of those in trouble and how quickly those helpers worked to make sure that everyone around them were safe and protected. It’s hard for adults to wrap their minds around tragic events, and even harder for a child who feels that they have no control over their environment. Helping them to focus on the “good” is one way to bring comfort to both us and them.
What do you say to children who want to get involved, i.e. via protest or march? I think it is OK for children to see that their parents are passionate or care about causes that are important to them. However, until children are old enough to fully understand what is happening, they should not be in attendance. There are safety issues to be concerned about and protestors or marchers who may not exhibit behavior suitable for young children.
Danielle Lindner is a children’s book author, educator and founder of The London Day School. She is the creator of Miss Danielle’s Preschoolbuds Books and TV Series which can be seen on Amazon.com and on her YouTube Channel. www.daniellelindner.com.