Causes of Anxiety and Depression in Our Kids (and 6 Ways Parents Can Help)
Montessori classrooms teach kids to make choices. However, parents don't realize that they don't always allow this at home. Instead, parents often micromanage their kids' lives, everything from homework to friendships.
Current research shows an increase in anxiety and depression in kids. Modern parenting with highly structured school schedules and after-school activities can be one reason why. A portion of the solution could be to let kids learn to make their own choices and experience the consequences of those choices - both the good and the bad. This isn’t easy for most parents.
So, what is actually causing such anxiety, stress, and depression?
1. Excessive Striving for Achievement
One of my clients has a child in the seventh grade, who had to take performance tests to determine which high school she would attend in the Chicago public school system. This has caused her daughter undue stress and anxiety for the majority of her middle school years. First taking the tests, then waiting for the results, and waiting even longer to find out which high school she would be attending the following year. Was she going to be with any of her friends?
This caused her daughter emotional stress. While a certain amount of stress can be motivating, too much stress causes distress.
Our culture has a fixation on achievement and there’s a very narrow path toward success achieved only by doing well in school. We’ve been conditioned to believe that all the great things in life – a home, spouse, vacations, etc. – all results from how we do academically and are the road to happiness. Success cannot be defined by material possession, by fame, wealth, social status or academic achievements, these do not guarantee happiness.
2. Sleep Deprivation
Too little sleep accelerates feelings of anxiety and depression, and our culture actually promotes lack of sleep. We are conditioned that the road to success is to work hard, beyond the 40 hour week. The amount of time spent in front of computers and scrolling our phones and tablets exacerbates this. Not only does screen time interrupt our sleep, studies show that more than one hour of screen time per day in the early years is associated with developmental vulnerability in physical, social, emotional, and cognitive developmental health.
3. A Lack of a Sense of Control
We have to allow our kids to make choices, even if their choice turns out to be a poor choice. But parents want to feel in control. They derive much of their social image by how well their son/daughter is doing in life, because somehow this determines how “good” of a parent they are. By always being in control – you’re hindering your child’s ability to develop their own sense of control.
Here are some ideas about what we can do to lessen anxiety and stress in our child’s lives.
Allow your child to learn from experience
If we want our child to be good at something, we have to be comfortable with them doing it poorly first. That’s how we learn. It’s important to instill a “It’s okay to make a mistake” mindset into our children. This gives them confidence that even if they do make a mistake, they’ll be able to deal with it.
Kids who have never been allowed to make choices for themselves, who then enter college, are overwhelmed and have a much higher instance of anxiety and depression. Don’t send your kids to college without demonstrating for at least 6 months that they can run their own life. Stop making all your kids' decisions, give them choices. Not complete free reign.
Give your child freedom within limits
(Read this blog about giving children freedom within limits.)
The most effective parent is one who sets boundaries in sand as opposed to stone, allowing for flexibility and negotiation with their children. Stone boundaries are to be set sparingly, where safety is concerned.
Walk with them as their guide, like a consultant, rather than hierarchical - as an authority. Allow them to develop intrinsic motivation, engaging in an activity because they find it interesting and inherently satisfying, instead of what you want them to do.
Hold family meetings weekly
At these meetings, set rules for your family like no cell phones during meals or at family meetings, discuss schedules and activities of the week, talk about things that are important to bring up, something someone did that was thoughtful or extra helpful or kind.
As for help with activities to care for the house - research indicates that children who help with “chores” have higher self-esteem, are more responsible, and are better able to deal with frustration and delay gratification. Give kids a choice of how they contribute to the family, as opposed to making them do a certain type of chore.
Don’t guard your child from stressful situations
Allow your kids to experience stressful situations, with your support – don’t steer them away from them. This is how we develop resilience. Life is full of stressful situations and they need to experiment with how to deal with stress within the safety of home.
Think out loud. Talking to kids about situations we are going through, and how we’re dealing with them shows them by example.
Schedule in downtime
We live in a fast paced world where everyone is busy. When we’re not busy, we find something to focus our attention on – it's a real problem. Part of the reason kids have so little control of their lives is because they don’t play as much anymore, all their time is structured.
Kids are never allowed to be bored and don’t know what to do with even a minute of nothingness. It’s incredibly important that we allow ourselves enough time to sit in stillness in order to develop a sense of who we truly are.
Promote a healthy sleep environment
Kids perform better when they get more sleep. Charging phones in the kitchen or living room, not in the bedroom and using an actual alarm clock instead of relying on our phones helps. Most kids leave their phones on all night and their brains are attuned to the notification sound so their sleep gets disturbed.