Students have returned to another school year of uncertainty and pandemic restrictions.
That, according to University of Calgary researchers, may be leading to more anxious children.
“Anxiety rates doubled over the pandemic,” said Audrey-Ann Deneault, the co-author of, Does my child have separation anxiety? How parents can help with children’s back-to-school fears.
Deneault said about five per cent of children under the age of 12 deal with anxiety in a non-pandemic year — now that number has doubled.
“So we’re talking about one in five children right now,” said Deneault. “So 20 per cent of children are feeling anxiety and that’s really concerning when you think about it.
“It’s sad, though it’s not shocking. We’ve been asking a lot of our children.”
After more than 18 months of pandemic health orders and long periods of isolation at home to protect the public, children may have a hard time leaving their family and feeling safe.
The uncertainty of the fourth wave in Alberta could also be weighing heavy on students.
“It’s really hard for kids having this unpredictability and uncertainty about their learning,” said Deneault.
She said separation anxiety is the most common form of anxiety in younger children.
It could manifest physically and mentally — with different symptoms and severity.
Deneault stressed it’s important for parents to watch for these signs:
- sore stomach
- trouble sleeping
“Maybe some crying when school will start or just some clinginess to the parents,” is another sign, said Deneault.
More severe forms of separation anxiety could lead to anxious thoughts.
“They’ll be scared something bad is going to happen to them or to their parents when they’re not with them.”
To help ease some of that anxiety, Deneault said watching for those critical cues and talking openly about anxious feelings is a start.
“Parents can be helpful in validating this and being like, ‘I hear you, this is hard and I’m sure you’re not the only person feeling this anxiety.'”
Deneault said research also shows if parents are more anxious, their children have a tendency to develop it as well.
Ignoring elevated symptoms could also lead to problems in adulthood.
“We know that when you’re younger and you have some anxiety, you have some depressive symptoms, you’re more likely to also have those symptoms when you’re an adult.
“So it might mean a generation that’s more likely to suffer from anxiety and depressive symptoms.”
Dealing with anxiety and supporting young children early, said Deneault, would mean less strain on health care and better lives for our kids.
“They don’t have to have this lingering anxiety from this pandemic.”