We sat down with Harry Monga and Narciso Cruz to talk about how anxiety affects children today, and what parents can do about it. Harry and Narciso teach the YES! Program full-time in schools in the NY/NJ metropolitan region and in communities across the nation. During the summers, Harry and Narciso teach youth programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center in Boone, North Carolina, including an SAT prep program that incorporates world renowned stress-management training from the YES! Program.
1. What can parents do to help their children manage anxiety?
Harry: First of all, they can’t get anxious in the process of relieving their child of anxiety. If they have an intention to help their children, they have to be in a place where they are really calm, or at least calm enough for them to be of some help.
Know that there are a lot of things that can get rid of anxiety. There’s no shortage of things that parents can do for their children to help them cope with anxiety.
Anxiety is just another negative emotion. Like any other negative emotion, it’s something that can be worked with. And it is part of the system. Everybody gets anxious. It’s very natural, and it’s healthy.
2. Can mindfulness and meditation help youth with anxiety?
Narciso: There’s no question about it. I’ve seen it many different cultures of various economic backgrounds while teaching the YES! Program, from the Dominican Republic, to Colombia, & in cities across the United States. Another unique thing about this is it doesn’t discriminate with the age. The person may be 8 years old, or 21, 14—at any the age, mindfulness and meditation definitely helps. And when the kids apply it themselves, when it comes from them, rather than being imposed, then there is nothing more useful, more powerful that will help them. It has been scientifically proven that these practices really calm the mind, de-stresses on a deep level, and helps them pay more attention. Crisis at some time in their life is inevitable, but they move through those challenges with more strength.
3. How do youth express and experience anxiety? Is it different from adults?
Narciso: In a way, it is different, but it’s not different. Because wisdom has no age. A five year old can teach someone who is 60 years old. Similarly, anxiety can come in the mind of an adult or a child. Maybe they will express it differently, but the experience is the same. The mind of an adult may have more stress than a young person’s mind, but anxiety in either case is the same thing.
Anxiety is just another negative emotion. Like any other negative emotion, it’s something that can be worked with.
4. What should parents know about their child’s anxiety?
Harry: Everybody experiences it, and that there’s something that can be done about it. It can be made negligible enough so that it doesn’t impact the expression of the child, nor the performance of the child.
5. What are some common sources of anxiety for children?
Harry: There are so many sources of anxiety, including
- The company that children keep
- Social media, or media in general
- The lack of interaction with an actual human being
- School, tests, academic challenges
- A child’s relationship with a teacher
- Being in an uncomfortable circumstance with a peer
- It’s common for girls to feel anxiety about what others are saying behind their back, gossip, rumors, etc.
- Comparing themself to others, in physical appearance, in performance
- Worrying “What other people think about me.”
And any these may still be sources of anxiety as adults as well. These are all sources of anxiety that keep us away from being ourselves, from being natural.
6. How should mindfulness and meditation be introduced to youth?
Narciso: The first thing to realize is that these practices cannot be forced on the kids. Make the practices very vibrant for the kids, and with some challenge. Young people love challenges. The most powerful thing is giving them a little experience, and then they will get it right away, & understand how to calm their mind. Otherwise they just have an intellectual concept of it. A personal experience gives them something tangible. Guide them through a little breathing exercise, a little meditation, or even an awareness game.
7. How does a parent’s own anxiety impact their children’s anxiety?
Harry: This is huge. The most effective way to teach a child or any young person is by modeling, and without saying anything. If you can model the behavior, they catch on instantly. This applies also with anxiety. If the parent is modeling 90% calm behavior, not anxious behavior, and 10% of the time perhaps they might get a little anxious, the child will catch on for sure.