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Is Your Child Anxious During This Pandemic? Here’s What You Can Do

things to do when child is anxious during pandemic

Takeaway: Your child might be anxious, but this is a chance to teach her coping skills she can use for the rest of her life. The trick is to (1) Listen, watch, and stay available, (2) Be positive, calm, and reassuring, (3) Help her process what she hears, (4) Be honest and fact-based about what you tell her, (5) Teach her what she can do to stop germs from spreading.

Children are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, just like we are.

In a new documentary, The Atlantic interviewed children about their take on the new challenge we’re all facing. Here’s what some of them said.

  • Emiline Miner (Age 9): “Partly, it feels kind of cool, because I get to live through something that’ll probably be in history. But it’s also kind of scary.
  • Rebekah Joseph (Age 11): “I have asthma, so that kind of scares me.”
  • Paolo Velez (Age 11): “I’m worried … that this will go on for a long time. Like, we are just at the start of it.”

But not all children realise just how anxious they’re feeling.

So, the first thing we as parents need to do is watch for mood or behaviour changes. For example, a change in their sleeping or eating habits, difficulty concentrating, excessive worrying, or unexplained headaches or body pain. With younger children, you might notice them crying more than usual or being irritable.

What can a concerned parent do to help?

Here are some strategies you can use to help your child through her anxiety.

1. Listen, watch, and stay available.

Your child may find it hard to open up, so watch for signs she wants to talk. Is she hovering while you do the dishes or clean up around the house? Younger children may want to ask a few questions, get back to playing, and then return for more questioning later. Just make sure you’re available and give them your complete attention during those key moments.

2. Be positive, calm, and reassuring.

She’s taking a lot of her cues from you, so give her a reason to stay calm. Remind her that she’s safe and that healthcare workers are doing their best to keep everyone else safe, too. Also, try to redirect her attention to positive things like how people are coming together to help their communities. With younger children, you could even make a game of finding and listing these sorts of examples to reinforce the fact that good things are happening, too. Another positive to focus on is the extra family time she gets, and the fun indoor activities she can plan.

3. Help your child process what she’s hearing.

A lot of the news on TV or the internet is meant for adults. So, your child could misinterpret what she hears and get unnecessarily worried or confused. One solution is to try to limit how much time she spends watching the news or following events on social media. But you’ll also want to thoroughly go over and explain the things she does end up hearing. Also, be mindful of conversations you have with other adults, because she might overhear them. Older children, especially, might want to stay informed. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re correctly processing what they learn.

4. Be honest and fact-based about what you tell your child.

The more facts you give your her, the less she’ll be tempted to catastrophise. So, help her construct an accurate view of what’s happening. Start off by asking open-ended questions to find out what she already knows and how she feels about things. And use these questions as a compass to decide which topics to tackle and which to leave alone.

Try to keep your explanations age-appropriate.

  • For elementary school children, keep things brief and simple. Offer basic information and balance facts with reassurance. Use phrases like, ‘Us adults are working hard to keep you safe.’ And remind them that you’ll look after them if they get sick.
  • For upper elementary and early middle school children, you’ll have to do a bit more explaining. They’re likely to worry about falling ill or not being safe. So, talk them through these anxieties and give them the more realistic, positive outcomes they haven’t thought of. For example, if they worry that they’re going to get sick, ask them why they’re afraid of this. They’ll probably say that it’s because other people are falling ill. And this is where you can point out that no-one they know is sick yet, or that most children don’t get sick from this illness.
  • For upper-middle school and high school students, you’ll be able to have a more in-depth conversation. You could show them how to find reliable information (on the internet, for example), and remind them that a lot of what pops up on social media is based on rumour and can’t be trusted.

5. Teach your child everyday precautions she can take to stop germs from spreading.

This will give her a sense of control and the skills she needs to stay safe. Here are some things you can tell her to do.

  • Stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing or sick
  • Use a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing. And then throw the tissue into the trash
  • Wash your hands thoroughly (for at least 20 seconds — sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice) and regularly (especially after coughing/sneezing, going to the bathroom, or before eating). Use hand sanitiser if there’s no soap available.
  • Give elbow bumps instead of handshakes

As scary as this pandemic might feel, your child can grow from it.

By watching and modelling you, she’ll learn that we can survive tough situations and perhaps even thrive. It’s just a matter of perspective. And this is a valuable lesson she’ll apply to a host of challenges down the line.

Would you like to talk to a specialist about your child’s anxiety?

The Ed Psych Practice offers consultation, advice, and problem solving for parents, nurseries, schools, and colleges.

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