Family Wellbeing

The Ripple Effects of Childhood Anxiety Can Impact the Workplace. Organizations Are Well-Positioned to Offer Support to Working Caregivers.

Anxiety among children and teens is rising. Here’s how to create a supportive and understanding work environment that serves as a lifeline for employees dealing with upheaval at home.

Written by
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Lynn Burrell
Lead Content Manager
Clinically reviewed by
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A teen holds their hands on their head while taking a deep breathe

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    Every caregiver knows how difficult it is to watch their child suffer. For an increasing number of families, suffering includes struggles with anxiety. 

    The number of children and teens who experience clinically significant anxiety symptoms has continued to rise across the globe. Even before the pandemic, the numbers were surging. 

    As this surge continues, many families include a child or teen struggling with anxiety, which can have a significant impact on social, emotional, and academic functioning. This can strain family dynamics, causing stress and tension within the family unit and for the caregiver or parent. 

    Furthermore, these dynamics can cause working parents or caregivers to struggle as they balance family and work responsibilities, spilling over into the workplace environment.

    When workplaces recognize and address this issue, supporting employees who are caregivers to children with anxiety, it benefits both the employee and organizational health. 

    Understanding anxiety in children and teens

    Clinical anxiety disorders are characterized by apprehension that’s not necessarily appropriate to the situation, disrupts daily life, and doesn’t go away. This is different from the temporary anxiety many people feel on occasion.

    Anxiety serves a survival function and can be life-saving as a fight or flight response in reaction to danger. However, when an individual feels that response regularly without a threat, the feeling can become disruptive and clinically significant.

    With children and teens, anxiety often manifests as a general fear about everything. This may include: 

    • Social anxiety 
    • Separation anxiety
    • Extreme fears about a specific situation or thing
    • Worrying constantly about the future or bad things happening

    Common causes can include a variety of factors such as genetics, significant changes or major life events (a move, death, changing schools, trauma), brain chemistry, or hormones. Anxiety is also more common in neurodivergent children and teens.

    A growing crisis with rippling effects 

    The prevalence of anxiety in children and teens has nearly doubled in the last decade. Currently, approximately 20.5% of young people worldwide experience clinically significant anxiety.

    Children and teens are still learning how to cope with life, especially in labeling and identifying how feelings connect with moods and actions and applying effective strategies. 

    In this respect, children experiencing anxiety can have significant struggles. It might affect their academic performance, how they approach challenges, social functioning, resilience levels, and overall mental health and well-being.

    Anxiety in children can cause upheaval for working families

    When a child or teen is experiencing anxiety, it can significantly impact daily family life. A working parent or caregiver may have to leave work in the middle of the day to pick up a child from school, meet with teachers, and make time for therapy or other interventions during the workday. 

    School avoidance has risen significantly among children and teens during the past few years. This can disrupt mornings for everyone as caregivers try to get their children to school while arriving at work on time.

    Refusing to attend school due to anxiety may not sound like a big deal. However, dealing with an upset child who is struggling and dreading school every day is difficult and painful for everyone.

    Recognizing signs of anxiety in children and teens

    Although there are similarities between how children and adults experience anxiety—excessive worry, difficulty concentrating, and a phobia or fear component—children and teens more often manifest anxiety in their behavior.

    For example, this might look like:

    • Irritability, tantrums, lashing out
    • Sleep issues
    • School avoidance
    • Perfectionism
    • Physical pains: frequent stomach aches and headaches

    Whenever a parent or caregiver sees that a child or teen’s anxiety is causing problems with their daily ability to function, it can be helpful for both the adult and the child to seek help. Early interventions can also keep mental health challenges from worsening and requiring higher levels of care.

    All of this can change a family dynamic in unwanted ways. If a child isn’t sleeping at night, it’s likely an adult in the family is also not sleeping. Or if a teen suddenly has problems at school, causing their parent to leave work, they may very well be worrying and unable to focus on their job.

    So, how can HR and workplace leaders provide tangible support to parents and caregivers?

    Creating a supportive workplace culture

    From an outside perspective, it’s easy to underestimate the internal pressures and stress a caretaker has to deal with when their child is experiencing anxiety. A working caregiver already has so many responsibilities to balance.

    Creating and cultivating a supportive and understanding work environment can be an anchoring point for employees overwhelmed with upheaval at home. What might this look like? We can break down support strategies into several categories:

    • Promoting open communication about mental health, which facilitates psychological safety and normalizes help-seeking behavior.
    • Education and awareness about mental health and more specific topics such as anxiety in children and teens. Consider bringing in speakers who share their experiences. This is not only helpful to the caretaker, but also builds a level of understanding and empathy among colleagues.
    • ERGs can be a great source of support and resource sharing for caregivers.
    • Comprehensive mental health support is critical, including therapy for children, individuals, and families, along with coaching and other well-being resources.
    • Modeling and promoting work-life balance might entail things like embracing healthy attitudes about boundaries, respecting off-work hours, or offering education about stress management.
    • Organizational strategies for addressing stigma and providing mental health support.
    • Normalizing flexibility and accommodations for employees dealing with family-related mental health challenges.

    Employees who work in a supportive organizational culture feel psychologically safe and can be more present, knowing their workplace has their back. That feeling can be profound for someone worrying about their child during their work day.

    Flexible work arrangements

    For a parent or caregiver negotiating multiple responsibilities—taking a child or teen to therapy, meeting with their teacher, or simply needing to be home more to support a struggling child—having flexibility around when their work gets done can be a game changer. 

    This isn’t possible for every role, of course, but when it is, allowing employees the time they need  to take care of their child during the workday benefits both parties. It’s also very likely that such arrangements are temporary. Maybe there’s a month in which a child attends intensive therapy, and within that time frame, the caregiver works modified hours or from home.

    Implementing comprehensive mental health benefits

    Providing employees fast access to high-quality mental health benefits is particularly helpful when their child is struggling with anxiety. But there’s a related issue that’s less discussed.

    When people start a new job, they’re bombarded with information, including their benefits offerings. It’s pretty likely that a year or two later, if a mental health challenge arises, they don’t know what’s available for their situation.  

    Discussing your organization’s benefits at regular intervals can keep them top of mind, including concrete examples of how they can be used.

    Consider sending a dedicated email each quarter, talking about the available benefits for specific situations—child and teen anxiety, for example. In this scenario, you could note that family therapy or parent coaching are available as part of the employees’ benefit package.

    Childhood anxiety is on the rise, but support is available

    As anxiety in children and teens continues to rise, empathy is the most essential part of any solution in a workplace setting—regardless of the situation. As you interact with working parents, take a moment to consider and even ask: 

    • What’s their story? 
    • What does their life outside of work look like? 
    • What invisible burdens are they carrying during their workday?

    Support networks are often a chain reaction. The struggling child is supported by their caregiver, who also needs support. Another link in the chain connects people in mutual care. It’s a reminder that we are all bound by our shared experiences and challenges, all necessitating care and support at various points in our lives.

    Learn more about this latest innovation in our Family Care suite of services, which provides mental health care and support for all ages.

    About the Author
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    Lynn Burrell
    Lead Content Manager

    Lynn came to Spring Health from her start-up company Weldon, a parenting wellness app acquired by Spring Health in March 2022, where she was a co-founder. She has extensive experience working with children and families with Learning Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Mental Health and Physical Health challenges, and Executive Functioning Difficulties. Lynn has a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Assessment and a Professional Diploma in School Psychology. She has certifications and has practiced in New York, New Jersey, and California.

    About the clinical reviewer
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