Response: July/August 2020 Issue

Helping Youth and Children Navigate Anxiety

response interviews Trudy Rankin and Faye Wilson, authors of the 2020 United Methodist Women children and youth spiritual growth studies.

Helping Youth and Children Navigate Anxiety

​Through its mission and spiritual growth studies, United Methodist Women has helped children and youth understand the world around them and the work of the church in many regions. Through geographical, spiritual growth and social-issue studies, children have had a chance to expand their worldview and their understanding of God. This year’s spiritual growth studies help children and youth explore and manage their emotions and anxiety. These two studies, Managing Our Emotions and Managing Our Anxiety, help them identify and understand their responses and reactions to what is happening in their lives and to those around them. response asked the writers of the children and youth studies, Trudy Rankin and Faye Wilson, to share their experiences of making understanding and managing emotions and anxieties into two engaging mission studies.

response: How did you feel about being asked to write this year’s United Methodist Women youth and children studies?

Rankin: Writing for youth and children about their understanding of managing feelings was a dream come true for me. I have been spending 35 years sitting with one child or youth at a time as a psychotherapist. Many who come to me are anxious about school, peer pressure, family disruptions due to divorce, their future and the future of their families, violence and the stress of trauma. Young children have a hard time even naming a feeling or identifying differences in those feelings.

Wilson: I am always excited when I am asked to write for United Methodist Women. It is a privilege, it is a joy and it is a challenge. Once I was asked to write a comic book—I had never done that before! There are certainly times when I say yes and then ask myself, “What have I said I would do?” There are times when I feel I do not have anything fresh to add. And yet the Holy Spirit continues to unveil ideas. I am amazed that at times something I read in a magazine or a commercial on television or a song that pops up randomly serves as inspiration.

As Trudy said, there was something energizing about bringing to United Methodist Women leaders and the children and youth the experiences of spiritual direction and other healing directives to help the students manage their emotions, and anxiety in particular for youth. Everyone may not need counseling or have access to counseling; however, everyone can learn breathing exercises that can help them calm their spirit and pounding hearts.

response: What was it like writing the books?

Wilson: This is the second time that I have had the chance to collaborate with another writer whom I had never met in person. This time we conducted our review and brainstorming sessions via Zoom, which enabled us to see each other face to face and have a clearer understanding of each other’s excitement about the studies. From the beginning, I was able to trust Trudy’s expertise and understand her passion for these resources.

The face-to-face aspect of using Zoom also provided additional comfort for me to share affirmations for our work as well as some frustrations with the writing process. We could say to each other: “I am not sure what you mean by that,” or “What a great idea—I have never thought about it from that perspective.” We could share our struggles and puzzlement and work out challenges in real time.

Our roles had been basically defined as Trudy identifying key resources and me perusing them and writing the drafts. However, as the writer, I realized early on that I was not always able to interpret the jargon or language of psychology to make it understandable for study readers and leaders. I also needed specific guidance in developing ideas that would be useful with children and youth. I could ask Trudy to draft several paragraphs, and then I would use my experience in writing children and youth studies to tweak it. It was a wonderful collaboration.

I was also free to suggest resources that we could use and to say whether I thought a resource might not work well. We both tried to keep in mind that while there were a lot of resources available, we needed to be mindful of how much we were asking study leaders to absorb given that the topics and self-care resource ideas might be new for many of them.

response: What have you learned through your own experiences with United Methodist Women?

Rankin: Writing these resources with Faye gave me the opportunity to impact more than one youth or one child at a time, through education and self-understanding. And even more exciting was that the church, through United Methodist Women, saw the value of this training. We were able to explain that anxiety is a normal feeling that can become unmanageable, but we were also able to give guidance in how to understand what was happening in the brain and in the mind through one’s thoughts, which distort the normal feelings of anxiety.

response: What surprises did you encounter in this process, and how have the books encouraged your faith?

Wilson: The biggest surprise for me was that we had to push to include a couple of healing directives that we had identified. One reviewer had cited a Bible passage about needing to rely on prayer to change our thoughts. We had a lengthy conversation about helping the study leaders—and therefore the children and youth—understand that mental well-being often also requires medication or healing directives. We are excited to share that exercises such as guided breathing and visualization are just as important to health as having persons treat their hypertension with medicine and exercise. Trudy and I both felt that mental illness is not clearly understood, nor is the spectrum of what constitutes mental illness or challenges widely accepted. We were glad to bring this information to a younger audience and its leaders.

The books definitely encouraged my faith. The Scriptures we included, along with the hymns and songs we identified, are all designed to understand that God cares equally about my mental, physical and spiritual health. The experience of writing the books broadened my knowledge base so that I am more comfortable as a youth leader or friend or aunt to listen more deeply and advise more thoughtfully when someone opens up to me. God gives us knowledge beyond prayer. Managing our emotions is part of being healthy, both physically and spiritually.

response: What do you hope United Methodist Women members get from these studies?

Rankin: I was grateful that Faye and I were on the same page regarding expanding the resources of wellness to include the various aspects of self-care spiritually, emotionally, physically and mentally. We were excited that through a weekend’s worth of conversations and experiences, these children and youth—and their leaders—would learn how to talk to one another about feelings creating a community of care. They would learn that asking for help is a healthy behavior, and that identifying the “bad” feelings and asking for help to deal with them was the sign of a winner. Through exposure to training videos and literature, the youth and children would learn methods that are cutting edge and scientifically researched. We were excited that youth and children could become teachers for their peers.

I hope that anyone who reads these books, whether out of curiosity or in preparing to lead the studies, will find the information and exercises helpful. I hope that we all will see that, as caring adults, we need as wide a range of skills as possible—including prayer, meditation and reflections—to support children, youth and each other as we grapple with anxiety-provoking issues.

response: The COVID-19 global health crisis has affected everyone and in various ways. What advice do you have for children and youth during this exceptionally anxious time?

Rankin: Youth and children need elders to help them take the Hero’s Journey into the unknown. They need people in their world who, while keeping them safe, can embrace this opportunity of deepening spiritual maturity so that they can see the spiritual practices that are necessary to make meaning of this life experience. Are these elders to be found, those who understand the depths that must be resourced to change things? This is the moment. We can go deeper than superficial remedies. Children and youth need leaders who can help them channel the energy of anxiety into understanding and growth.

Wilson: The children and youth books provide several ideas for children and youth to manage their emotions. Straw breathing is one of my favorites where children inhale through their noses and exhale by blowing through a straw. This activity is calming for some children and youth. Emotional freedom technique, also known as tapping, is also helpful in managing emotions and addressing anxieties.

This is a time when children and youth need caring adults in their lives. For those in their primary circle of strength, such as parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, pastors, youth leaders: Check in with your children. Ask if they’d like a hug. Create ways in which they can safely interact with friends, with social media, phone calls, pictures, letters, texts or e-mails. For youth, acknowledge their sadness. They are mourning the loss of proms, graduations, sports seasons and other ceremonies, gatherings and people. If possible, try to create alternate celebrations and recognitions. My family is planning an 18th birthday and graduation party on Zoom for my granddaughter. We are asking everyone to light a candle and say how she lights up our world. Most of all, make plans for the future. At least once a week, have everyone state their greatest dream for when COVID-19 is over!

There are two Scriptures I would encourage families to read and remember: Habakkuk 3:17-19, living through the “even though” times, and Acts 2:42-47: having all things in common, looking out for one another. Have children and youth pray for others in their age range who are struggling with fear, frustration and despair, pray for those who are not part of a nurturing family and community, pray that the Holy Spirit will bring to their minds any good memories of being cared for and cared about, pray that they will have a doll or stuffed animal they can squeeze tightly in hopes that some of their fears will be eased. Encourage children to sing, write stories, draw pictures, imagine their lives after the pandemic wanes.

For older children and youth, if they have access to the internet, there are several videos that provide suggestions for managing fears and anxiety. It could be fear of the dark or fear of being hurt. It could be bone-deep loneliness. It could be overcoming anxiety and handling sadness such as the loss of a pet or of a friend. There are several videos referenced in both the children and youth study books—now is a great time to use them.

Trudy Corry Rankin, EdD, has worked as a nurse and counselor is a spiritual director with Stillpoint, a spiritual direction program. She is the author of "Soul Notes of a Composition: Glimpses of Grief from Suicide." Faye Wilson, EdD, is a writer, educator and musician and is former staff of the General Board of Global Ministries working in the area of mission education. She has written materials for more than 10 mission study themes.

Posted or updated: 7/6/2020 12:00:00 AM

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