In early 2020, stay-at-home orders were imposed across the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19. While some cities started reopening in May, some are closing again given the recent surge in coronavirus cases.
With no clear end to the pandemic in sight — and with the unprecedented unemployment rate, economic recession, and other major societal events happening right now — many American adults are now struggling with anxiety. But adults are not the only ones affected; even children are showing signs of anxiety.
To help your children cope with anxiety during this time, follow these tips:
1. Practice healthy coping strategies yourself
Children, especially young ones, often watch and mimic how their parents respond to different situations. If they see that you’re panicking or wallowing during uncertain times, they are likely to mirror the same behavior. That’s why it’s important that you process your own feelings first with your trusted friends — not your kids — and find healthy coping mechanisms that work for you.
Read these blogs to learn different healthy coping strategies:
- Stress during an outbreak: What you can do to help yourself
- Simple yet effective ways to manage anxiety
- The mindfulness moment
Even if you’re feeling anxious, try to act calm around the kids. Ask someone else to watch over them for a while if you need some alone time to ground yourself. Remember that your children will pick up lessons from this experience. If you model healthy coping strategies, they will learn that it’s possible to manage difficult emotions even during challenging times.
2. Provide them with facts and information about the situation
One of the most effective ways you can help your children manage their anxiety about the pandemic is to talk to them about the disease. Start by asking them what they know about it, then correct any misinformation using age-appropriate facts about COVID-19.
Explain to them the different things they and the rest of the family can do to prevent the spread of the virus. Make sure they understand why they are doing certain things, such as frequent handwashing and social distancing. If they understand the why, they are more likely to do them.
3. Check in with your children
When kids are experiencing anxiety, they may not always be able to identify and articulate it. Anxiety in children can manifest in many ways such as:
- Looking for reassurance (e.g., asking questions like, “Are we going to be okay?”)
- Becoming more clingy with their parents
- Experiencing physical symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
- Being moody or irritable
- Throwing tantrums or having meltdowns
- Having trouble sleeping
If you notice any of these signs, then you must immediately help them process what they’re going through.
For younger children, Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, recommends using any feelings chart you can find online so that kids can easily point to the emotion they are experiencing at the moment. You can also use a feelings thermometer to help them share how intense their emotions are.
For older or more articulate kids, Dr. Bubrick suggests asking them direct rather than vague questions. For example, instead of saying, “How did your day go?”, ask them, “Did you feel anxious today?” By doing so, you’ll be able to get them to actually share their emotions.
Just remember, don’t ever tell them that what they are feeling is wrong. Alternatively, help them separate what is actually happening from what they worry is going to happen so that they can better manage their emotions. Let them know that you’ll deal with the “what ifs” when they happen.
While it may also be tempting to simply tell your kids that everything is going to be okay, that may backfire, especially if you cannot guarantee that. Instead, respond with empathy: “I understand you are worried and that’s okay. But please trust that I am here to help you.”
4. Structure their day
Even if the pandemic has disrupted your children’s regular school and other activities, you should still try to get your kids to keep a regular schedule. Structure their days with fixed times for learning, chores, socialization, play, and relaxation.
Maintain regular routines. For example, in the morning, make sure they start the day by making the bed, taking a shower, changing clothes (rather than staying in their pajamas all day), and eating a healthy breakfast. Make sure they also follow bedtime routines and sleep at a regular time.
5. Give them extra time and attention
Children need their parents’ love and attention, especially during difficult times. That’s why you have to spend more time with them right now. You can do a lot of meaningful activities together such as playing board games, reading books, watching movies, attending online workshops, and exercising. Doing so will make them feel that they’re not alone, helping them better manage their anxiety.
Are you or your children struggling to cope with anxiety in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak? Meridian Psychiatric Partners is here to help. Schedule a telehealth or in-person appointment with us today.