PTSD and kids: Handling your child’s anxiety

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Experts say Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a very specific set of symptoms. It is rarely sparked without actually experiencing a traumatic event firsthand. In kids, it’s most common in those who have faced abuse.

But anxiety in children is another story, and since March of 2020, it’s become an even bigger problem.

Six-year-old Tanner doesn’t mince words when talking about what the pandemic was like for kids.

“Pretty much bad,” he said. “Crappy.”

Even at his young age, his mom, Amanda Aubrey, recognized the challenges he and his sister were facing when things shut down because of the pandemic in March of 2020.

“I was 100 percent concerned,” Aubrey said “As someone who has struggled with mental health, that was a big thing for me. I could see them getting very sad. I could see the anxiety in my older daughter.”

Her daughter, nine-year-old Lexi, isn’t alone in that anxiety.

Psychologists like Dr. Joy Miceli at Dayton Children’s Hospital say there was a clear starting point for many of the issues they’re seeing in today’s kids.

“We see a lot of anxiety right now,” Miceli said. “And I think the pandemic kind of started all of that off with uncertainty and changes in environment, changes at home, changes in school.”

And with all the discord in the world, from Ukraine to Uvalde, children are under a tremendous amount of stress right now.

“When we have so much unrest in the country, that certainly contributes to that feeling of anxiety and not feeling safe,” Miceli said.

“Do you see kids concerned about things like school shootings?” Wood asked Miceli.

“We do, yes,” Miceli replied.

It isn’t that kids have not faced stressors before. In the Cold War, duck and cover drills were commonplace in America’s schools.

Since Columbine in 1999, school shootings have been a concern for parents and students alike, but now, there are two main differences that have left many kids feeling less safe:

First is the total disruption of their routine during the pandemic.

“Certainly for kids, the routine,” Miceli said. “It’s so important for kids from an early age. Routine is what tells them that the world is a safe place and a structured place and they’re going to be okay.”

And the second: The constant bombardment of media.

“We know things that 50 years ago you didn’t necessarily know about in the same real-life way that you do now,” Miceli said. “And you can see some of the stories and I think that increases the sense of vulnerability.”

So what is a parent to do? Experts say to know the signs.

“Sleep disturbance, nightmares, withdrawal, being more irritable a lot of times for kids can be an indication that they’re having some anxiety and difficulty coping,” Miceli said.

When it comes to managing symptoms, Dr. Miceli and Amanda Aubrey agree that communication is key. Make sure your kids are hearing about issues from you, not from social media or television.

“Talking about it helps,” Aubrey said. “Just kind of putting it in context of what they understand. And what they can relate to. I try not to make a big deal out of like it could happen to you. I don’t want them to see that panic even if maybe I am a little worried, I try not to show them.”

Also, focus on feelings.

“Safety and security in the home and in their primary environment is going to be most important thing,” Miceli said. “So making sure that they feel safe. And that can be through rituals and routines and structure. It can be through, ‘What’s our plan?’”

Finally, practice calming skills, things like breathing that can be taught at home or with the help of a professional. And remember, seeking professional help is always an option.

“Having a therapist I can check in with is just great,” Aubrey said. “Same thing with my kids. My daughter was like, ‘I want to go talk to somebody.’ And I was like, “Ok, we will find someone to talk to.’”

If your child’s anxiety symptoms start disrupting their everyday life, don’t wait to get that professional help.

Dr. Miceli says, take the time to find a therapist that fits your family. And don’t be afraid to meet several until you find the one that clicks.

She suggests starting with your child’s primary care physician, asking friends and family about their experiences with therapists they’ve had success with, and going to the Dayton Children’s Hospital Mental Health Resource Connection by clicking here: