LYNNFIELD — There are a number of ways parents can help children who have anxiety, Riverside Community Care Clinician Heather Day said during a recent presentation.

Day gave the “Don’t Feed the Worry Bug: Helping Kids Manage their Anxieties” presentation on Zoom teleconference as part of A Healthy Lynnfield’s “Healthy Kids, Healthy Conversations” series on Zoom teleconference.

“Heather provides mental health counseling for a lot of children,” said Substance Use Prevention Coordinator Peg Sallade.

While Day said anxiety can be “a normal emotion,” she said, “Anxiety can hinder a person’s ability to function when they are at school, work or home.”

“The concept of ‘Don’t Feed the Worry Bug’ is that the more we become fixated on the worries that people can’t control, the more overwhelming it becomes,” said Day.

Day noted that 4.4 million children between the ages of 3-17 have been diagnosed with anxiety, equaling 7.1 percent of children.

“We are seeing more kids with anxiety due to COVID and a lot of the transitions kids have gone through,” said Day.

Day said 1.9 million children have been diagnosed with depression, equaling 3.2 percent of children.

“Anxiety and depression have increased over time,” said Day.

When a child’s behavior starts to change due to their anxiety, Day encouraged parents to get their child help.

Day said it’s important for children who have anxiety to eat healthy and exercise. She also said it’s important for children to spend time relaxing and get plenty of sleep.

“Those are important components for brain health,” said Day. “Our physical health and psychiatric health go hand-in-hand.”

Day noted that she often uses Play-Doh and rocks when she is working with children in order to demonstrate important life skills.

“We can manipulate Play-Doh to make it look and function differently, but we can’t do that with rocks,” said Day. “I tell children that in life we have rock and Play-Doh problems. It’s helpful when we can identify which one is which. With Play-Doh, we can make changes because we have some level of influence. We are not able to change the rock. We have to use our coping and relaxation skills in order to alleviate stress and anxiety.”

Day said people who have anxiety can hold onto ice cubes or an ice pack in order to calm down when they are having a panic attack.

“People can use it to self-regulate their body,” said Day.

In response to a question from Sallade, Day said she has seen an increase in the number of children who refuse to go to school as well as children who try to come home before the school day ends. She said some students have had a difficult time transitioning back to school after hybrid and remote learning ended last year.

“Some children have been able to transition back to school full-time smoothly,” said Day. “For students who have dealt with bullying and social anxiety, they performed better during remote learning because the academics and the social component of school were not as intertwined. Those students have had trouble going back because they were comfortable at home.”

Sallade inquired what should parents do if a child refuses to go to school.

“School refusal is a complicated issue,” said Day. “It’s important for parents to reach out to the school in order to develop a consistent and cohesive plan between the nurse, psychologist and teachers. The plan should be consistent and structured so the student knows what will happen if they are having a hard time.”

Day said it’s important for parents to ask their child questions about their anxiety in order to understand it better.

“Their anxiety is real even if we don’t understand it,” said Day.

Day encouraged parents to reach out to a family member, friend and other parents in order to brainstorm about different strategies that can be used to help their children.

“It’s okay to say to your child that you sometimes feel anxious,” added Day.

Day said parents can buy young children and teenagers books that highlight the effects of anxiety.

“Books can really resonate with kids because it helps them realize they are not alone,” said Day.

Day said also said its important for children with anxiety to develop a “wise mind,” which strives to find a balance between the “reasonable mind and the emotional mind.”

“A reasonable mind focuses on problem-solving and decision-making that is logical and reasonable,” said Day. “The emotional mind is when we are making decisions based on emotions. There is a time and a place for both. But what we are trying to get people to do is use their wise mind, which is balancing the reasonable and emotional side of the brain.”

Sallade said it’s important for children to have someone in their lives they can talk to who will listen and not judge them.

“It’s important for kids to feel it’s okay to talk about their feelings,” added Sallade.

Sallade noted that there are adjustment counselors at all four schools who can provide additional support to students and families.