Summer anxiety is a common dynamic in children and teens who thrive within the structure provided by their school routine. When school is out for the summer, young people may feel lost or aimless. This is prevalent enough to be considered a manifestation of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Summertime anxiety has multiple causes and can result in depression or other mental health issues. It is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of this condition and find ways to help children and teens to cope.
Causes of Summer Anxiety
It has long been understood that children or teens in financial need require extra attention and support when school is not in session. People are beginning to understand that removing the moral, psychological and even structural support of school is also an issue that needs to be addressed.
There are multiple summer anxiety causes, including:
- Changes in sleep routines
- New caregivers
- Changes in eating habits
- Lack of a schedule
- Worry about the upcoming school year
Everything — from which friends they see regularly to what adults are caring for them — represents a significant change for children and teens in the summer. Their routines and habits can vary greatly and be a source of stress. Children who already struggle to cope with unexpected changes may find themselves incapable of handling the transition into summer and act out because of their anxiety.
The Issue of Lack of Structure
According to studies done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 37% of children who have behavior issues also have anxiety. Lack of structure and anxiety are closely linked and present issues for children and teens. During the summer, classroom structure is replaced by a variety of entertainment and activities. Losing the predictability of school year routines can produce anxiety.
Recognizing Signs of Anxiety in Children and Teens
Anxiety in children and teens can be difficult for parents to identify. Children and teens are less likely to be able to clearly communicate what they are feeling and thinking, which means that parents will have to be highly attentive to the non-verbal signs their child or teen present. These cues can be followed and increase understanding of whether a child or teen is anxious.
Anxiety symptoms in children often generate physical complaints, such as:
- Upset stomach
- Outbursts of anger
- Stubbornness or unwillingness to participate in activities
Signs of anxiety in teens will often manifest in similar, if more sophisticated, ways, including:
- Withdrawing or antisocial behavior
- Anger or aggression
- Change in hygiene or appearance
Confrontation is often not the right approach, because children and teens may not even understand that what they feel is anxiety. Empowering, empathetic and supportive speech as well as adjusting routines or schedules to meet their needs may be the best ways parents can help their anxious children or teens.
Talking to Kids about Anxiety
According to a study published for the Psychiatric Clinics of North America, anxiety about school and social anxiety are two of the top four categories that make elementary school-age children anxious. Talking about anxiety and providing children and teens with the right words to identify and express their feelings is highly valuable. For children, conversations should begin with relatable terms and an awareness that children interpret the world literally. To a young child, anxiety often feels like a physical ailment. Tying that feeling to events is a helpful starting point for meaningful conversations.
For teenagers, anxiety may be a familiar concept. In the teenage years, social anxiety and a variety of phobias can be prevalent. Fear will often be a feeling that accompanies anxiety. Staying in close communication with your teenager will help you understand the source of their fears or anxieties and help you provide them with the tools to overcome or work through these feelings.
What Parents Can Do to Help
Beyond conversations and support, parents can provide meaningful elements to a child or teen’s daily life during the summer to help them overcome anxiety. Some ideas for this include:
- Planning and keeping a daily schedule
- Planned family time
- Limits on screen time
- Keeping children busy
- Sending children to camp
Summer camp for kids with anxiety may be a helpful tool to keep them occupied and in touch with school friends. Teens may benefit from finding a summer job or a club to join. Carving out predictability in routines will be a helpful way to address summertime anxiety.
When to Seek Professional Help
There will be times when the anxiety a child or teen feels requires professional help. Working with a mental health professional to provide an anxiety treatment plan for children is a great first step to getting the right help. Children and teens who are empowered with the tools to manage anxiety will be less likely to self-medicate or seek other unhealthy sources of comfort.
Beesdo, Katja J. et al. “Anxiety and Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents.” Psychiatric Clinics of North America, September 2009. Accessed July 20, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health.” April 19, 2019. Accessed July 20, 2019.
Coltrera, Francesca. “Anxiety in children.” Harvard Health Publishing, August 14, 2018. Accessed July 20, 2019.