Managing child stress during the pandemic
Last week, I shared tips for parents on how to relieve the stress of spending so much time with your children at home and feeling isolated from the rest of the world. This week, I’ll focus on helping children reduce their fears and anxieties during this coronavirus pandemic.
How children show stress
Be aware that young children may show stress by being clingy, angry, agitated or even withdrawing from wanting to engage with you. When this happens, remember it is not you causing this behavior; it is your children trying to deal with something that is making them fearful and anxious.
Helping your child cope
¯ To help children cope with stress and anxiety, listen to their concerns and respond to them with extra love and attention.
¯ Build separate one-on-one time with each child every day to answer their questions or simply to validate and help them overcome their fears.
¯ Ask them what they know or heard about coronavirus that may be concerning them and answer honestly at a level your child can understand.
¯ If you can’t answer the question, work together to find the answer or speak with your child’s health care professional who can help.
Share all that is being done to eliminate this virus and all that your family is doing to prevent the virus from spreading, including good hand washing and coughing into their elbows rather than their hands. Tell your children all the positive things they do each and every day, rather than emphasizing the negatives to bring stress levels down for the entire family.
Keep regular routines
Regular routines or schedules are critical stress-reducers that can give children the predictability they need as to how to best spend their time. Uncertainty as to what comes next only fosters anxiety and fear of the unknown. Be creative and flexible with that schedule. Assign time for schoolwork and learning, as well as for relaxing together, getting some fresh air (while respecting social distancing) and doing some physical exercise together. Reducing exposure to news in the media can also help older children lower their stress.
Allowing children video-chat time is essential in helping reduce the stress of not being able to visit friends and family in person. Parents, do all you can to manage your own anxiety and stress, using tips I shared last week — especially focusing on the positives and staying calm.
Hopefully, tips like these will allow both you and your child to breathe more easily when it comes to recognizing and knowing what to do if you suspect your child is becoming too anxious or stressed, while we are all working together to get rid of the coronavirus.
Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.