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From the global community down to each individual person, we are all being affected by COVID-19 and the global health pandemic we are in. Changes have taken place in our communities, our families, and ourselves. The lives of our children have been disrupted as well. Their schools have been closed, routines altered, and they are no longer able to see their friends or participate in sports, theater, or other social activities.

As we navigate these changes, it is important to be aware of how our children are feeling. It’s very possible many children and teenagers are experiencing increased fear and anxiety right now, especially if they have access to the media and news coverage of the coronavirus. Chances are, today’s youth are being exposed to continuous stories of health pandemics, natural disasters, school shootings, and doom and gloom about the future. Additionally, increased time spent on social media can heighten anxiety and lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

This article aims to highlight some behaviors and signs that could indicate your child or teenager (or children and teenagers) may be experiencing increased fear and anxiety about COVID-19 and things you can do to help them manage their stress. 

Signs Your Child Feels Stressed:

  • In younger children, difficulty separating from parents (i.e. clinginess and/or neediness) may signal a fear for their own or other’s safety

  • Excessive crying or being overly emotional

  • Irritability, isolation, and withdrawal from others

  • Restlessness, difficulty sleeping, and/or changes in sleeping patterns

  • Loss of appetite, increased appetite, and/or changes in eating patterns

  • Difficulty concentrating or staying focused on the task at hand

Feeling stressed right now is understandable. Our daily routines have changed very quickly and drastically; we are all being asked to get creative in how we will use our time moving forward. Helping ourselves through this time and supporting family members and our community will make us all feel better and grow stronger. Here are some things you can do when you observe stress in your children.

Ways to Help Your Child Cope:

  • Be an example. Model calm behavior and rational thinking. Children often mimic the behavior of the adults in their lives so if a child sees their parents, teachers, caregivers, etc. staying grounded even in the most difficult times, they are more likely to do the same. When you react calmly and confidently, you signal to your child that you are able to take care of yourself and them so there’s no need to worry.

  • Monitor your family’s media consumption, especially news. Children are very impressionable and aren’t able to differentiate between drama and real life. If they are watching the news, make sure you are watching with them and take time to talk about what you are seeing.

  • Encourage honest conversation. Children are more likely to feel overwhelmed or scared when they don’t know what is going on. Encourage them to ask questions and express concerns. Be honest with them and communicate the facts about what is happening. Remind them to practice healthy hygiene and to stay focused on what they can do (for example, hand washing and healthy eating). Filter what you believe is unnecessary information but make sure to be honest in your answers; children need to know that you believe they are strong enough to handle the truth and trust you to give them accurate information.

  • Practice good self-care. Stay calm, eat well, exercise regularly and teach your children to do the same. Remind yourself and them to take time each day to slow down and relax. If you remain playful and are able to use this time to focus on health and creativity, your children are more likely to do the same. 

  • Maintain daily routines. Consistency during this time is key for helping children feel safe. Consistent family meals, bedtimes, school, work, and playtime will all increase feelings of comfort and consistency for children. Children feel safest when they know what is coming and what to expect each day.

  • Focus on the positive. Now is a great opportunity to teach your children about mindset and perspective. Practice gratitude at mealtimes or at the end of the day. Play games, make jokes, share good news and make sure that in your home, you are focusing on positivity and not fear.

  • Teach and model stress management techniques. These may include mindfulness, deep breaths, exercise, long walks, and listening to music. Because children mimic adult behavior, now is an excellent time to demonstrate calmness and confidence in the face of challenge.

When we look back on this time ten years from now, we want to be able to say we rose to the challenge of COVID-19 with strength and with grace. Part of this is staying aware of how our children are coping with the changes. Persistent anxiety can have a detrimental effect on a child’s mental and physical health so don’t hesitate to reach out to health professionals when you need support. 

There are many online resources available with advice on how to talk to your children about coronavirus, as well as tips and tricks for making the most out of your time at home. Online therapy at The Relationship Therapy Center is also available and is an excellent resource for family health. We are offering family therapy, couples counseling, and individual sessions remotely to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved. Make an appointment today.