I thought today might be a good time to remind everyone how anxiety and stress can show up differently in children and adolescents than in adults. If you are educator, a child care provider, a coach, a youth group leader, a parent, or someone who simply cares about young people, please take note. Our young people are navigating a lot of challenges that most adults have never had to deal with let alone imagine. The more empathy and understanding we can have the better able our children will cope during these unprecedented times.
The first thing to keep in mind is children do not have the same resources as adults do.
Children do not have the same power, freedom, or material wealth that they will when they are bigger, legally emancipated, or employed. Children do not have the luxury of changing schools because they don’t like a teacher or walking away from an abusive or neglectful caregiver. They cannot vote, decide what classes to take, or arrest a bully on a school playground. In summary, children are at the mercy of the adults in their lives. More importantly, they had no choice about whom those adults were.
The other thing to keep in mind is children, even the ones in big, adult-size bodies, do not have the same cognitive skills they will as adults. The human brain continues to grow and to develop until the age of 25. At each developmental stage of life, the brain gains new skills. The brain’s development also coincides with emotional development. That makes sense, right? The better our cognition, then the better we can comprehend the world around us, including our internal world.
Magical thinking, the belief that your thoughts can impact the world around you, is a cognition trait in which children as young as two and as old as 7 routinely engage. Most of the time magical thinking is a way for children to play and to use their imaginations. Sometimes, however, magical thinking causes a child to feel overwhelmed and responsible for something they are not. For example, a boy once thought he caused an earthquake because the first seismic wave happened right after he slammed a car door shut.
Another important brain development, the maturation of the pre-frontal cortex, begins in adolescence and crystalizes in the mid-20’s. The pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain that prioritizes, plans, and calculates risks, is instrumental in helping us navigate the world. Immature pre-frontal cortexes handle stress very differently than mature pre-frontal cortexes. The difference is often seen in teenage, high-risk behavior. If you ever catch yourself saying, “What were they thinking?” then you might be witnessing a classic, immature pre-frontal cortex in action.
Obviously, there is much more to human brain development than mentioned here. I gave the above examples simply to illustrate the point that child and adolescent brains are not the same as adult brains. Knowing there is a difference is only part of the solution: the other part of the solution is cultivating empathy for young people.
I once heard a comedian describe the view of a child in this way.
A child and her adult are walking through a park. On her wrist, the child has a beautiful, red balloon. Unfortunately, the balloon string slips away from the child’s wrist and floats up, up into the sky. The child is distraught and begins to cry at once. The adult tries to console the child by telling her the balloon can be replaced with a new one. The aggrieved child wails, “But I want that one!”
The comedian telling this story then says, “Now imagine the red balloon is your wallet. Changes your perspective, doesn’t it?”
I think that is what we adults need to do right now: change our perspective. Imagine looking at the world through the eyes of our child or adolescent. What are young people noticing and experiencing?
If we are willing to let go of our assumptions, our expectations, and our stories…
If we are willing to put aside our own struggles, concerns, and challenges…
If we are willing to listen without judgment and without fixing anything… then
What might we learn and how might we show up more compassionately and empathetically for our young people?
I, therefore, am sharing the following list of anxiety symptoms most commonly seen in children and adolescents. Remember, they might not have the words or the capacity to directly communicate their feelings, so as the adult with the fully developed brain, take the responsibility to notice how your young person is behaving and ask open-ended questions (questions that do not have an easy yes or no) to invite your young person to share. Just like you, your young person needs someone in their life to listen and to care.
The most common signs of stress and anxiety in young people:
- difficulty with concentration
- finding it hard to sleep or nightmares
- not able to relax, uptight
- not able to control emotions
- new fears
- anger outbursts
- aggressive or stubborn behavior
- regressive behaviors
- clingy, not letting you out of sight
- checking out, escapist behaviors (extra TV, video games, etc…)
- loss of appetite or upset stomach
Have a wonderful week.
Kim Bushore-Maki is a soul-driven entrepreneur who understands the undeniable urge to create a business and a life filled with meaning and purpose. Her vision of opening a center where women could heal and grow led her to open Shakti in the Mountains in Johnson City, Tennessee: a place where the creative, feminine energy is nurtured and valued.
Five years later, Kim is still in the flow of supporting and building a healthy, vibrant community and now guides retreats, teaches yoga, and provides one-on-one services for women who want an immersion experience into the life-affirming, Shakti energy.
Kim’s training as a therapist and yoga teacher allows her to safely and compassionately guide women on a heart-centered journey to Self, where women re-connect with their beautiful, authentic spirit.