196: Anxiety and Depression in Children, with Gregory Jantz, Ph.D.

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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Recent data shows us that anxiety and depression have spiked tremendously in kids since the pandemic. Kids are struggling more than ever and they need our help (adults too, by the way). But what does that help look like? 

In this episode of the Beautifully Complex podcast, psychologist and author of several books on anxiety and depression, Dr. Gregory Jantz explains the signs of anxiety and depression in children, what we can do as parents and educators to help them, and when and how to seek professional help.

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My Guest

GREGORY JANTZ, PH.D.
Psychologist Gregory Jantz PhD is the founder of The Center: A Place of Hope, which was voted one of the top 10 facilities in the United States for the treatment of depression. Dr. Jantz is a bestselling author of more than 37 books including “The Anxiety Reset”. He is a go-to media source for a range of behavioral- based afflictions, including depression, stress, anxiety and addictions. Dr. Jantz has appeared on CNN, FOX, ABC, and CBS and has been interviewed for the New York Post, Associated Press, Forbes, Family Circle, and Woman’s Day. He is also a regular contributor to the Thrive Global and Psychology Today blogs.



 

Transcript

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 0:00

I think kids need right now more than ever, a listening ear. And not only just from parents they need to have others have significant influence in our life where they really feel heard and understood. Let them share all their anxieties. Ask him the questions that will tell me how you really do it. How about your friends and just let them talk?

Penny Williams 0:27

Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the beautifully complex podcast. I am honored to have Dr. Gregory chance here with us today. And we're going to explore anxiety and depression in children. And I want to start off by having Dr. Dan's introduce himself. For everyone listening, please let them know who you are and what you do.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 1:13

Sure. I'm Dr. Greg, Jants founder of the Center, a Place of Hope. This is our 38th year. Wow, just to say that 38 years we are a whole person facility. In the Edmonds Washington area where we serve folks who come to us from all over the country, they're here for weeks, six weeks, whatever they need, we do it from a very unique perspective. And that we are a team, every client has a team assigned just to them from natural health care, to psychiatry, to counseling to fitness to dieticians. So it's very much whole person. And my passion has been in depression and anxiety care. And these are two very big topics right now anxiety is? Well, it is the number one diagnosis that we're seeing any form of anxiety followed by depression followed by addiction.

Penny Williams 2:07

Yeah, it's a tough time. It's definitely a tough time. I want to start by sort of defining anxiety and depression for anyone who's listening who isn't quite sure what each of those looks like.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 2:22

Sure, you know, and those are words right now that kind of get tossed around a lot. We're told that we're in a mental health crisis, maybe it's more like a mental health pandemic, because the numbers are so great. And I want to acknowledge when anxiety and or depression get a stronghold in your life, it brings you down and you go, I just, I'm not functioning. Let's talk about anxiety. Anxiety always has physical components. Anxiety may wake you up during the night and you feel like you're in panic, and you're gasping for air. Anxiety raises blood pressure, anxiety makes it difficult to make a decision or to concentrate. You may have headaches, you may have sweaty palms, but you may feel it in your gut. So there's always a physiological side to anxiety. Yeah, now anxiety and depression can live together? Absolutely. What that looks like is, they may have a cycle of some pretty deep despair and depression, and then you may wake up and you're very anxious. So those two can live together. Or you can have just a deep depression and a deep despair without having the anxiety component. So sometimes the terms are overlapping other times, they're separate and distinct.

Penny Williams 3:36

Yeah. And so how do we recognize these in children as a parent or an educator? What sort of signals might we see that signal that we need to get some help? And maybe an evaluation?

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 3:49

Sure. And by the way, we love our kids, and we want the very best for them. I'm a parent as well. So when I speak to this, I speak with really a heart of great care and compassion for our kids. Yeah, let's just speak to a moment of the pandemic and what the pandemic has generally done in the lives of our kids. There is no doubt. It's clear, kids are behind Virtual Learning learned from home as much as we wanted it to be different. It wasn't it did not have good results. Kids got behind, and the social anxieties with our kids went way up. The rules all changed. The kids go back to school and nobody is safe. For the younger kids. It's like, oh, you know, you certainly don't hug your teacher. You can't touch anybody. There's a whole new set of rules that really affect general development, and what some of the needs that kids have that are age dependent needs. Younger kids have different needs than older kids. So all the rules changed. And some of the normal development that kids go through we know and working with some of The speech pathologist that no matter what you believe masking, for some kids was very detrimental, as it relates back to language development. And most speech pathologists are saying that they're very busy, and that they're seeing kids that missed out on some language formation and development of appropriate pronunciations kids use what we call Mimic, in order to learn words, and that was interfered with. So yeah, we have all these things that kind of add up, that are unusual for our kids to be walking through, Besides, most of them are generally behind.

Penny Williams 5:38

Yeah. And that can create anxiety in and of itself, right, and not having the experience with other kids for a while. I know, personally, I have anxiety and social anxiety. And so I have noticed an increase in my own social anxiety, and getting back out into the world more. And I can only imagine for kids and the amount of isolation that they had for a long period of time that it's really increased, what they're going through and just not having practice almost.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 6:08

Absolutely. Kids are suffering, then I'm making some general statements. Yeah, miraculously, there were some kids that seemed to move through this, all right, but the vast majority did not. And so kids turn to social media. And presently and during this time, and how many stories that I hear of kids that were supposed to be watching their teacher virtually been had their cell phone down below, and they're playing games with the kids in class, you know, things like this. So we know that then the deep dive into social media really did affect our kids social media is where they get all their information, not always the best source of information. Social media is where they learn. Do I have friends? You know, how many likes do I have? Who's following me? So social media has changed the dynamic of self esteem and how kids develop? And what they think of themselves? Yeah, it teaches kids to compare. And anytime a kid compares, they feel inferior.

Penny Williams 7:11

Yes. Comparison is the thief of joy. One of my favorite quotes. Yeah. And I think it's hard for them to recognize that they're seeing a highlight reel, they're not seeing a true representation of other people. And I think it makes them feel more different and more isolated.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 7:28

Absolutely. Absolutely. So kids are more isolated. They're more alone, we know that kids are scoring higher and test of loneliness. You know, in a recent national survey with adults said 61% of adults post pandemic felt lonely. 61% of us felt lonely. Yeah. And you can imagine, well, what about our kids? Hmm. And so then we develop through social media, we develop really a false sense of relationships. You know, everybody's my friend. Yeah. Social media, whether you don't go through the normal, it's like instant friendship or instant intimacy. You don't go through the normal stages of a relationship when you're in social media.

Penny Williams 8:12

Yeah, that's so true. And I think when you're doing that, during development, it's even more detrimental. Right, right. Let's talk a little bit about maybe some symptoms or signals of anxiety in kids, What should parents or educators be looking out for? And I think, too, when is it a matter of needing help, versus a typical or healthy level of anxiety.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 8:38

Some of the things that we're seeing are kids that perhaps are showing some academic failure, they're afraid times to go to school, they may experience some shame, they may disconnect from their normal peer group, you may see a kid that is isolating more and more disconnected more and more from others. So that's so important that we look at this.

Penny Williams 9:07

Yeah. And some of that sounds like it would be an overlap with depression, that maybe those could be signals of depression.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 9:14

They could be signals of depression. Absolutely. And so we're looking for patterns, you know, kids will have a bad day teenager may have a bad week. That's normal. But what we're really looking at is a teenager that doesn't, or a young, younger adolescent, that really doesn't pull out of it. You see them stuck in an ultimately a downward spiral and you see ongoing school failures. You see behaviors that weren't necessarily normal. Older, you may see some drug or alcohol experimentation, but you start to notice what looks like some pretty significant personality changes that's different than just going through the stages of growing up. We're talking about something here that's significant. and doesn't go away.

Penny Williams 10:01

Yeah, that's so important to think about to you. I think as parents, sometimes, especially parents, we get very triggered by our kids having a hard time and we want to help them and sort of fix it right away. And we have to have the patience and sort of the foresight to say, I have to wait and see if this is something short term or something that's really over the long haul. Yeah, exactly. Let's pivot a little bit and talk about how do we help kids who are struggling with anxiety or depression?

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 10:30

You know, what do you think about what our kids need from us? Well, sometimes we're really quick to give them all the answers or just tell them, here's what you need to do. I think kids need right now more than ever, they need a listening ear. And not only just from parents, they need to have others have significant influence in their life, where they really feel I break it down to three things they really feel heard and understood. Let them share all their anxieties, ask them the questions that will tell me how you're how you're really doing. How about your friends, and just let them talk. Now, sometimes, they may be short on words, other times, they may go on and on. That's okay, I'm going to keep the bridge of communication open. Now, I also want to make sure that we're engaging activities with our kids that are bonding and things that they enjoy. I have two sons. Now, one of the things that we did when they were younger, it's I if I had something really important to talk to them about, okay, you don't put them in a chair and say, sit down, listen to me, I have something I'm going to tell you. Okay, and then you go on whatever it is, and then you say, do you understand it? And the kid goes, yeah, and then you go, Well, what did I just tell you, and they go, I don't know, I don't know. Because their brain turned off. But if you have something really important, take them outside, go for a walk, throw a ball back and forth, engage in some physical activity, that totally changes the dynamic, and have those important conversations, when you're engaged in some kind of motion. It'll change a lot about what's shared and how it's shared. I understand we can get really frustrated, but during this time, be careful about our frustrations, and keep that bridge of communication, even, it may be very frustrating for you. And also, kids need a sense of real acceptance, they need to acceptance, they need to have a group of others where they really feel accepted. And affirmed. Kids are looking for a sense of where I fit in, what value do I have, and we need to remember that they get their value, they get their affirmation from the peer group that they are involved with.

Penny Williams 12:40

And I hear this common thread through what you're talking about of connection, connecting with our kids giving the opportunity, you know, being open to it open for them to come and talk to us about what they're going through without judgment.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 12:56

Yeah, exactly. Going through without judgment. Well said.

Penny Williams 13:01

Yes, I learned the term radical empathy recently. And I just am trying really hard to make that my barometer of parenting somewhat, too, because I think so often we get in that trap of wanting to help, when maybe what the kid really needs in that moment, is just to be heard, just to be done. And yeah, yeah. And I failed that so many times. As a parent, I'm really trying to work on that and to spread that idea that we really just need to listen more. We need to stop talking. Sometimes as parents, I think and be open to just hearing what they're going through and accepting that and what they're going through.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 13:47

That's right. And kids are going to be especially sensitive to judgment or anything that feels like judgment. So be aware of that. They're hypersensitive? Yeah. Yeah. And they may interpret things a little differently than how you ever intended. So their perceptions could be different because they're hypersensitive to being misjudged. They're hypersensitive, to being misunderstood. They're hypersensitive to their looks, everything, you know, yeah. So yeah. So there's a tender development that we just need to understand.

Penny Williams 14:22

Yeah. And in our population of neurodivergent. Kids, we also have rejection sensitive dysphoria and this hypersensitivity to rejection and criticism that is often hard to navigate for parents as well. When you were talking about that, it reminded me of that as well.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 14:39

And by the way, so just think of those three things. The kid needs acceptance. They need affirmation, and they need a sense of feeling understood. If in my conversations, if I can focus on those three things. Now kids need a direction to but if you're really seeking to understand where they're at, be careful about giving direction too quickly on top of all that, let them feel heard and understood.

Penny Williams 15:04

Yeah, yeah. So important, so powerful. Let's talk a little bit about the different ways to address anxiety because I talked to a lot of parents who really struggle with, what is the right thing to do when a kid is anxious? Should we push them to challenge themselves? Or should we let them hold back? You know, there's a lot of concern about if we're doing the right thing. I think a lot of times when it comes to more specific anxieties,

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 15:37

Okay, so one of the things we need to be aware of with our kids is, they do need a challenge, but they need to feel that understood. Let them express the anxiousness. And then we ask the question, tell me what you feel like you need, what do you need? And just let them express that a little bit. Sometimes, if they're younger, they need us to physically be present with them. Yeah, and just that physical presence and to walk them, maybe we need to walk them to the school room, or we need to have some physical presence, acknowledging their feelings. But we can challenge them without saying, Oh, you can do this, just go do it. face those anxieties. You got this. But they're not feeling that way. So yeah, we kind of use a backdoor approach of I'm going to be with you, they need to know things like that I believe in you. And let's go ahead and have you go to class today. But let's talk about how that was for you, and how we can make it better. So things like that, yeah, there are times when a kid has such significant anxiety that in a way they're disabled, in that their mind can't function. And they probably need a deeper sense of assessment. I have an incredible, it's pretty lengthy, but it's free, it's confidential, you can take my anxiety questionnaire online, and take it on behalf of the loved one or a child, and just you're checking out symptoms that you may be seeing it can it's fairly lengthy, because we want to be comprehensive, and it's private, it's going to send you back a score. And also, I give you some free downloads, to give you some ideas to get started with love that I even give you a little download of a book I did on anxiety, seven answers to anxiety. So I want to resource you. And sometimes, you know, just getting a different idea on how to approach something can be really helpful. But that's one of the things I could do for you by resourcing you and giving you some good quality free resources, but sometimes taking that anxiety test, if you will, because the Oh, wow, there's a lot of symptoms or you see, okay, there's not that many. And it can be encouraging either way, because you kind of see what's going on.

Penny Williams 17:50

Yeah, I love that. We'll link that up in the show notes for everyone as well. And I wanted to talk a little bit about how sometimes anxiety shows up in ways we don't expect. And what I mean by that is often like anger, aggression, opposition that we tend to, I think misinterpret. So how can we sometimes be able to tease that apart and say, Oh, this is actually anxiety? It doesn't look like anxiety, but it could be anxiety.

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 18:22

Yeah. And that's where the questionnaire is gonna be quite helpful. Yeah. Well, one of the things is, there's a kid who may have a bad day, one day, it's like, okay, everybody's allowed them. So that would be normal. But if all week long, I don't want to go to school, or I'm crying or I'm angry. And it continues kind of beyond that one tough day. I think that's an indication. So frequency of symptoms, and the intensity of those symptoms.

Penny Williams 18:49

Hmm, yeah. And maybe asking ourselves, what else could it be? I think, you know, if we think oh, as well, it's just a vase or something. And it continues, sometimes asking What else can it be could be really helpful as well? Exactly. And so lastly, to close, I want to find out from you what you recommend for parents who feel like it's time to seek some help. They feel like maybe their child is struggling with anxiety or depression. What is their first step?

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 19:18

Well, I think the first step is to get more information. I'd have a pretty in depth book called The anxiety, reset, mm was additional information, but get as much information as you can. And also be careful that you don't, you know, pre diagnose your son or daughter. Be careful about using labels around them. Mm hmm. I wouldn't say oh, you're just an anxious student. Well, be careful about labeling them. Okay. Yeah. And then also there's a time where maybe they need a little more of an assessment. They need to meet with a child or use specialists that can really provide some insight. We don't want to ignore the symptoms, the symptoms have been going on for three months. That's just To sign we need to really listen to what's going on. Yeah, kids are experiencing anxiety at all time highs. And so we just need to be really aware of that. You know, we love our kids. And we also have great regard for what teachers may be faced with right now and educators, because they may have a lot of anxious kids. And it's a challenge right now, in many regards. So I want to acknowledge that as well.

Penny Williams 20:29

Yeah, I love that you did that, because it's definitely a challenge for educators. So if someone's looking for help, are they looking for a pediatrician, a psychologist? Who can they sort of resource for that evaluation or assessment?

Gregory Jantz, Ph.D. 20:45

Usually one or two resources? It's probably a child psychologist that does assessments. Okay, more. It's a licensed mental health professional with expertise and children, who also does assessments, working with kids, your younger ones, and, you know, up to 17 or so those are some special gifts to work with kids and, and really do well with them. So I'm going to look for somebody that is their specialty.

Penny Williams 21:09

Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much, Dr. Jantz. This has been so informative, and I'm so appreciative of you sharing some of your time and your wisdom. With everyone listening. I know everyone out there is also really thankful for that. I want to let everyone know to visit the show notes for this episode, where you will find Dr. Jantz's, his website, all of his books, and other ways to learn from him. And those show notes are at parenting, ADHD and autism.com/ 196 for episode 196. And that's it for us this time. I will see everyone on the next episode. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parenting ADHD and autism.com and at the behavior revolution.com

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I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

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