As Coronavirus cases rise, so too does our anxiety…and the anxiety of our kids, which can only further exacerbate our own anxiety.
You may notice that your children are misbehaving, being more clingy, overflowing with hyper energy, being more demanding, or experiencing moodiness and irritability. These can all be signs of anxiety in children.
The hallmark of this pandemic seems to be uncertainty. With so much uncertainty, it can be hard to talk to your kids about what is going on. Without direct conversation about what’s happening, children’s anxiety will rise.
Set aside time each day to check in with your child. Read on for tips for these conversations, as well as the best resources I’ve found to support your child if they’re experiencing anxiety.
Tips for Before you talk to your kids:
- Take care of yourself first … have this conversation with your child when you feel grounded and calm. Our nervous systems talk to each other through special mirror neurons in our brains … so if you’re trying to keep it cool on the outside but are freaking out on the inside, your child is likely to pick up on that.
- Reframe … although supporting your child through something that you are also likely nervous about is hard, reframe it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your child. Take advantage of the many teachable moments popping up throughout the day about patience, problem-solving, compromise, getting along with others, the need for personal space, and the need to be able to share openly about feelings.
- Be Aware … kids understand themselves and based on what they observe in adults. While pretending that everythign is fine isn’t healthy, managing your own mental health and anxiety around your children is important to help them ease their own anxiety.
- Be present … once you feel calm and grounded, show your child that you are present by getting on their eye-level, putting away your phone, and focusing your attention only on your child.
- Prepare … come up with some key developmentally-appropriate facts you want to share, such as
- Children are at lower risk for getting sick than older adults
- If children do get sick, their case is often mild
- Help kids see the meaning in staying home by explaining what ‘flattening the curve’ means: “we’re staying home to help stop germs from spreading and make sure sick people get the help they need from doctors and health care workers.”
Tips for talking to your kids about COVID-19:
- Ask questions first … ask your child what they already know about the Coronavirus and then fill in gaps in their knowledge with developmentally appropriate information.
- Validate their emotions … let your child know that all emotions are okay. You can share that you want to hear how they are feeling and that it can help to talk openly about what emotions they are experiencing. Normalize that even though emotions can be difficult, they don’t last forever and can be made lighter by sharing them with someone they trust.
- Lead with empathy … put yourself in your child’s shoes and let them know you understand how much their world has changed and that it must make them feel sad, angry, confused, and bored. “Some kids are really worried they’re going to get sick. Others are just excited to have so much time off school. What’s going on for you?”
- Check for understanding … kids want to know that they are understood. When showing empathy, check to see if you got it right by saying something like, “You must be so sad to not see your friends right now. Is that right? Do you feel sad?”
- Help them cope with their emotions … help kids brainstorm how they can cope with big emotions … perhaps by taking deep breaths, talking to a trusted adult, drawing pictures, writing in a journal or writing a story, or going for a walk.
- Model healthy coping … find opportunities to share how you are taking care of your own emotions. For example, “I’m going for a ten minute walk because it helps me feel better” … or, “writing helps me process things.”
- Remind them this is temporary … while we don’t know when social distancing measures will be lifted, we do know that this is a temporary situation. Remind them that we are doing the hard work of social distancing now so that they will be able to see their friends again and go back to school next year.
Tips for Reducing Anxiety:
- Aim for Consistency … children thrive on schedules, routines, and consistency. While a schedule doesn’t have to be rigid and very detailed, providing a general frameworks such as always doing online school work after breakfast and outdoor play after lunch can be comforting to children and adults.
- Limit Technology, Social Media, and News … all of which have been show to lead to increased levels of depression and anxiety.
While one of the most research-backed tools for helping your child’s anxiety is managing your OWN anxiety, below are some of the resources my clients and I have found helpful for kids struggling with anxiety during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Resources For Children’s Anxiety About COVID-19:
- Resources for Parenting Anxious Kids
- Here’s a book written for kids about COVID-19 “Hi! I’m a Virus!”
- Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus
- Understanding coronavirus and how germs spread – Brains On! podcast
- My favorite book for kids about anxiety: Hey Warrior
- The best podcast I’ve heard for kids about the Coronavirus
- “The Story of the Oyster and the Butterfly: A Story About the Coronavirus and Me” by Ana Gomez
- Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19
- Teaching resources about the Coronavirus
- Zero to Three Resources
- Kids Bedtime Yoga
- Corona-Heroes Story
- A free information book explaining the coronavirus to children, illustrated by Gruffalo illustrator Axel Scheffler
- What is Coronavirus (book)
- What Happens When the Coronavirus Changes EVERYTHING? A Book to Talk to Kids About COVID-19
- Youtube on Coronavirus
- When Things Are Different Because of a Virus
- “Time to Come In, Bear: A Children’s Story About Social Distancing,” by Kim St. Lawrence
- “Someday: A Story About Hope”