The coronavirus pandemic has made all of us on edge. These are unprecedented times, and the fear of the unknown lingers in the air. Our daily lives have been disrupted, we aren’t sure what tomorrow may bring, and the nonstop news and social media coverage surely don’t help with the fear, anxiety and uncertainty.
Our children may not be getting as sick from the coronavirus, but anxiety over the pandemic can take a heavy toll on their health. It’s more important now than ever to recognize anxiety in our children and to talk to them about the coronavirus in a non-scary way.
HOW TO RECOGNIZE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF ANXIETY
When kids are feeling anxious, it may or may not be clear to parents. It can be hard for kids, especially little ones, to fully convey their emotions and feelings. Below are some signs that Unicef put together to help you know if your child is experiencing stress and anxiety. These might include:
- Hypervigilance about your health or others: Fears that coronavirus will harm them or someone they love
- Separation anxiety: If your child suddenly needs to know where you are at all times or won’t play alone, he or she may be feeling unsafe
- Moodiness and tantrums: Meltdowns over having to do schoolwork or chores, oversensitivity and talking back can be a child’s way of venting anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping is a strong indicator that a child feels troubled, and as every parent knows, an overtired child will have trouble coping with even the smallest setback
Anxiety can also cause headaches and stomach aches. So whether you notice some of these signs or not, it is important to check-in with your kids every so often. If kids have trouble articulating how they are feeling, you could use a traffic light chart to help them share how intense their feeling is — a red light means they feel overwhelmed, a yellow light is medium and a green light means they are okay. You could also print out a feelings chart so your kids could then point to the feeling they are having now.
HOW TO TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN ABOUT A PANDEMIC
Dr. Tovah P. Klein, Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, says that a parent’s main job when communicating with kids about the novel coronavirus is to filter information and find out, especially for older kids, what their sources are. Kids can find these conversations very overwhelming and scary, especially knowing that people are dying all over the world. So, UNICEF Global Chief of Education Robert Jenkins urges parents to “make sure you are in a safe environment and allow your child to talk freely. Drawing, stories and other activities may also help to open up a discussion.”
Especially with early elementary school children, you must keep the information brief, easy to understand and fact-based. Talk to your children about what you as a family are doing to stay safe and reassure them that you will take care of them. Show them how to wash their hands thoroughly and to cough and sneeze into their elbow, or, better yet, a kleenex.
Encourage your kids to focus on being in the moment–remind them that although this seems like forever, this will not last forever. Things have changed, and things will continue to change, but tell them that that is okay. Change is okay. You must look at the positive–there is always a silver lining. Reflect with your kids on the good things that have happened–more family time, more arts and crafts, more movies, more baking, more board games, more laughing, more snuggles, whatever it may be. Practice more mindfulness at home, be it journaling/writing, reading, yoga, meditation, coloring or just talking together. So focus on what you’re doing right now; focus on what’s happening now rather than what might happen later on.
HOW TO HELP REDUCE YOUR CHILD’S ANXIETY
Good thing we already have a wonderful blog post dedicated to helping you reduce child anxiety. Our post dives into food-based strategies and how fueling up with lots of whole foods will greatly impact your child’s mood and stress levels. Other ways to reduce anxiety is to establish a routine. It is easy for children to get bored or fretful if they are facing a day without structure, and anxiety can thrive under those circumstances.Make sure that you are structuring their days when they are cooped up at home. With summer now here, be sure to incorporate safe, socially distant outdoor activities. Make sure your kids are getting fresh air and exercise and even schedule play dates via video chats and social media if they are on it. Socialization and staying connected is more crucial now than ever!
DON’T FORGET ABOUT YOU!
Also, don’t forget to keep calm and take care of yourself! Don’t share your worries with your children, and if you are feeling anxious, find a way to ground yourself. Kids are very attentive to your feelings and emotions, so if they sense you being very anxious and scared, then they could feel double that! Stay positive, set a tone of kindness, and model peaceful, caring behavior. And, do not forget to take care of yourself…please! Refer to our blog post on self-care to reset yourself and boost your mood. Do some gentle yoga, read your favorite book, color, watch your favorite TV show, take a bubble bath, make a refreshing smoothie, go for a nature walk, talk to or Skype a friend–there is always something to do that will clear out your mind. And model these self-care behaviors. Let your kids know early on that self-care is important. Find time each day to practice some self-care.
Written by Gelsey Plaza