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Episode 48: Why Are Kids Anxious and What to Do About It with Natasha Daniels

Brief summary of show:

Anxiety seems to be something we hear about more than ever for both adults and kids.

Why are we seeing such a high rate of anxiety right now? There are obvious reasons, of course, like the many uncertainties we face every day, but life is full of uncertainty today.

This week, we’re focusing on dealing with and understanding anxiety with my guest Natasha Daniels. We're going to talk about anxiety in kids – all the way from toddlers up through teenagers.

Natasha is a child anxiety & OCD therapist, and mom to three kids with anxiety & OCD. She is the author of Anxiety Sucks: A Teen Survival Guide, How to Parent Your Anxious Toddler, Social Skills Activities for Kids and It’s Brave to Be Kind.

Her work has been featured in various places including Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, PsychCentral, The Child Mind Institute and The Mighty.

Listen in as we talk about:

  • [3:10] Why our kids are anxious

  • [9:40] What is social anxiety?

  • [12:15] Advice for parents helping their kids through anxiety right now

  • [17:20] How to help our kids build positive thoughts about themselves

  • [20:25] How social media, food and sleep play into our kids’ anxiety

  • [23:15] How to know when your kids need external help, like a therapist or medication

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Connect with Natasha

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View Transcript for this Episode

[00:00:00] Natalie: Hi everyone. It's Natalie anxiety seems to be something we hear about more than ever today for adults and for kids. So here's the question. Why are we seeing such a high rate of anxiety right now?

[00:00:13] Well, there are obvious reasons, of course, in and out of school, home, back at work home again, mass. Uncertainty in general about the future, but you know, life is full of uncertainty today. I want to focus on dealing with anxiety. We're going to talk about kids. And when I say kids, I mean little kids, toddlers, all the way up through teenagers, but everything we're talking about.

[00:00:38] It applies to us as adults as well. We have to learn what is anxiety and what is stress? What is normal worry? And what is a mental health issue? My guest is Natasha Daniels. She's the author of the book. Anxiety sucks. A teen survival guide. Natasha has worked as a child and teen therapist for more than 20 years.

[00:01:01] She has a private practice. She has a website, she has a podcast and she has three kids. And three other books, four total the topic is really important because we absolutely have to understand, and not only identify anxiety, but we need to have strategies in place for dealing with it. So let's get started.


[00:01:27] Natalie: Natasha. This is a topic. I get a lot of requests for as a mom, as podcaster, also teaching high schoolers. Now it's kind of a new thing for me is I feel like I'm hearing more about anxiety then in the last five to 10 years, is it because we've learned more about it, where identify.

[00:01:48] Natasha: I think that's part of it, but I also think I think there is an increase in anxiety in general, kind of in our society right now.

[00:01:55] I mean, understandably with, I think the pandemic and everything that's going on. Um, But luckily I think we are tuned in and so it's also getting identified when it's popping up.

[00:02:05] Natalie: Well, as soon as we can identify. And know that that's what's happening, then we can do something about it. So let's take us a minute here for parents who are listening and thinking, you know, maybe that's what's wrong.

[00:02:18] Maybe that's what's causing my child to not want to go to school or be scared to go to the birthday party or how can you help parents identify that that's what's happening in their child's.

[00:02:31] Natasha: Well, I love that you brought up those things because I do feel like sometimes anxiety will show up as anger or difficult behavior.

[00:02:37] Sometimes that is the first sign. And if it's. Unusual for your child or it's out of character or it doesn't make sense and they're not giving you an explanation. It is good to dig further because a lot of times that resistance is actually anxiety and disguise. So I always say to parents, pause and say what's the hardest part about blah, blah, blah.

[00:02:59] You know, and phrasing it, not why don't you want to go to school? Because the wise, I feel like put kids on the defensive, even though we don't mean to it hasn't accusation kind of tone. But when I say what's the hardest part about going to school? They're more open, cause I've already acknowledged that it's hard.

[00:03:14] And so there's some validation in that and I know that sounds cheesy, but it actually is pretty powerful. And then I'm listening for anxiety responses. So if they say it's boring, I might still probe. But maybe they say, I just never liked school, but if they say things like. What if I throw up or if they say things like the tests make me so nervous, or if I'm not getting where, and I say, what's the, what day is the worst?

[00:03:35] And they say Fridays what's on Fridays. PE what's the hardest part about PE? No one picks me for sports. You're listening for those anxiety response.

[00:03:45] Natalie: Yeah. Some of those things are really normal kid things, but when it goes on over time or I want to get into here now, because when it leads to physical things like a stomach ache or a headache or not wanting to eat, like what are some of the physical things that we might see in our kids or teenagers to identify it as anxiety.

[00:04:08] Natasha: Yeah. And like you said, you know, A lot of it's normal, but it's the level of severity that shows up for a lot of them. So sometimes you might have a kid who is nervous about blah, blah, blah, but not, they're not getting stomach aches and throwing up. So some physical symptoms of anxiety are definitely the gut.

[00:04:24] So feeling nauseous, throwing up diarrhea, constipation, And then frequent headaches and a, child's not going to have all of these, but they can have some of them, you know, shaky legs heart palpitations, chest pain, difficulty breathing headaches. I think I already said that dryness of mouth. You might have someone who's like very fatigued, so it can really show up in a variety of ways.

[00:04:49] Natalie: So, what do you do? Like, let's get a little bit more into that. Say you have a teenager who feels nauseous every time one thing happens, or maybe it's maybe it's finals, which is a very normal pressure situation for a teenager and they come upon this and they don't know how to handle that pressure. Maybe they they're getting.

[00:05:09] Every time, something like that happens, where do you start with them? How do you, I love the way that you give examples of these conversations that you can have with.

[00:05:18] Natasha: Yeah, the first place you want to start is getting them to recognize that it's anxiety. Not that you're just counting a stomach because having anxiety myself, the stomach is real.

[00:05:28] It is, it feels just like a stomach virus. So there is no difference, but getting them to see that it's caused by anxiety is your first step. And so you might say, and for older kids, you have to lead them really with the breadcrumbs. I've noticed, you know, that you have a stomach ache Monday through Friday, but then on the weekends, your stomach feels better and you're singing in a non accusatory tone.

[00:05:50] It's just, or I notice your stomach hurts every time you have to perform, or every time you go to soccer practice, what do you think that's about? So we want our kids to start to think about it themselves instead of just. It's just anxiety. You're your stomach hurts. Cause it's anxiety that really can shut them down, but getting it to notice patterns is the first step.

[00:06:08] And then once they realize that this physical pain I'm having is an indication that I'm anxious and it's really like a deep indication. Like I've let my anxiety go so far that now it's physically showing. Then it's, how do you catch those thoughts as they're starting to build? How do I become more in tune to my body so that as it starting or even before it even starts, I say, Ooh, I'm going to be really anxious for soccer practice.

[00:06:31] What's that about? What are my, what are my negative thoughts about soccer practice? And then I want to explore those because I want to reframe those thoughts, or I want to counter those thoughts with a different perspective.

[00:06:43] Natalie: what do you think about identifying persona firing this anxiety? I've heard people talk about, and I know in your book you talk about giving it a name and what does that, what does that look like?

[00:06:54] I, I, I love the name you use for your anxiety, but what that looked like for other kids.

[00:07:01] Natasha: Naming. Anxiety's really helpful for a lot of different reasons and some kids don't want to do it and that's totally fine, but the benefits are it personifies it and it externalizes anxiety. And so it's not, it's not who they are because now a lot of kids don't want to identify with their anxiety and say, I am this kid that is afraid to make friends and I'm afraid to speak up.

[00:07:20] But when you say. My anxiety's name is para, right? So for paranoid. So pero doesn't want me to talk right now, our parents telling me this is going to be a horrible thing. it empowers me to, to confront pero or even to train pero if I don't want to be aggressive about it, you know, where power needs to learn.

[00:07:37] So you can name your kids can come up with anything. I mean, in our house, we have, okay. We had Mr. Worry, we have dictator, we have squishy, we have a full pack, people with anxiety, so they all have different names. Um, In my practice I've heard Bob and Gus and all sorts of just fun, silly names. And that, that helps us with communication and it gives us language.

[00:07:59] Natalie: So you can shut Gus or pero down when you start to say, okay, get out of my head. And because another thing I know you talk about, and I have seen this so many times over the years is the snowball. If you let Gus take hold, whoever your anxiety is, that can snowball into one little thing. They were afraid of can turn into like the worst thing in life.

[00:08:24] Natasha: Yeah. And teaching kids how to catch those snowballs early in my practice, I always call it melting snowballs. And so you can't melt a snowball if you don't know it's there. And so being aware of, I just had a snowball thought and being able to catch those snowballs as they go and reframe them is really important.

[00:08:43] Natalie: Can I, it took about a specific type of anxiety because I know you see a lot of this in your practice and. It seems like I talk to more and more parents who have kids who have social anxiety, who are, you know, they don't want to go to the birthday party or they don't want lots of examples. They just don't want to be with other kids.

[00:09:00] They're afraid of being around other people. What, what is that like? What is social anxiety? How can someone know if that's the struggle their kids have? And then what would you say to it? How would you advise me?

[00:09:12] Natasha: Social anxiety is very near and dear to my heart because that is, I have social anxiety disorder and all three of my kids have different renditions of social anxiety and socialists.

[00:09:22] And people often think it is you're shy, or it means that you can't make friends or you need social skills and you can be an extrovert and outgoing and have social anxiety. my youngest daughter is the biggest ham to the point where she really makes my social anxiety squirm because.

[00:09:38] Out there. She just had a choir concert. She was like nauseous before the concert could almost didn't make it. And then when she was actually up there and they'd let you free dance at the end, I wanted to die free dancing. The way that she was, she has anxiety. And that is because social anxiety is the fear of rejection criticism and judgment.

[00:10:03] And her core fear around that is I'm going to throw up and people are going to be, are going to hate me, or I might actually have a pee accident. So those are the two ways that it shows up for her. So not in performing or being social. And so I think most people don't understand social anxiety. They think it's either, you know, just this shy, demeanor, and it's not, it's ultimately the fear of rejection and criticism in whatever way that might show up for that person.

[00:10:29] So

[00:10:29] Natalie: how can someone get over that? Especially a teenager, they the most vulnerable time in their life, or they're so worried about what, more than ever, what people think about them.

[00:10:40] Natasha: It is really hard because social anxiety is one of those things. It's really hard to like separate yourself from, because it feels very much like it's you.