Helping Kids Handle Anxiety During The COVID-19 Outbreak

Helping your kids cope during this new and anxiety-provoking time might feel like a tall order when you’re wrestling with so much uncertainty yourself. But with this selection of strategies, you’ll be up for the challenge. Dig in. You’ll be breathing easier by the end of this page.

Be calm and sure of yourself. This may sound impossibly hard, but it’s important, because kids are famous for mirroring their parents. You’re more likely to stay unruffled when you get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, and take time to relax. Easier said than done, yes. But do the best you can to give yourself a healthy foundation.

Know what to look for. Kids show fear, anxiety, and worry in different ways. Their reactions depend on whether they’ve had to cope with stress before, their ability to handle it, and of course, their age. Look for these tell-tale signs:

  • Ages 2 and under: Crying more often. Needing to be held or soothed more than usual.
  • Ages 3 to 6: More meltdowns and tantrums. Difficulty sleeping. Backward steps in toilet training or separation from parents and caregivers.
  • Ages 7 to 10: Showing anger, sadness, or fear. Difficulty focusing. Nonstop talk about coronavirus or complete silence on the subject.
  • Ages 11 to 18: Acting irritable, argumentative, or fearful. Driving dangerously, drinking or using drugs.

Be ready to answer questions. Get your facts straight, with help from a trusted resource like the American Academy of PediatricsNational Institutes of Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Give straight answers. “It is OK to say people are getting sick, but tell kids that following rules like hand washing and staying home will help your family stay healthy,” advises the American Academy of Pediatrics.

You can also reassure kids that scientists and other experts are working hard to help people who are sick and keep others healthy.

Validate. Put into words or repeat concerns you hear from your kids, like: “It sounds like you really miss playing with your friends/going to ballet/being on the baseball field.” This can also launch a conversation that can help them work through their feelings.

Communicate more. If you’re going out, tell them when you’ll be back and the steps you will take to stay safe. Show them you love them with extra hugs, cards, or signs, and one-on-one time a few times each week.

Stay in touch with your teen. Talk about washing hands and how keeping physically apart from others is protecting vulnerable people. When it’s hard to start a conversation, take the spotlight off your teen. Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, recommends saying something like “I saw this article today and it made me wonder about this and that. Did you see something like that? What’s your reaction to it?”

Many teens are upset or sad about events they’re missing out on. Acknowledge the loss, then move the focus onto plans for the future.

Shine a light on the upsides. On some days it will feel like you’re digging deep. Take cues from the many families reporting positive moments, like sharing a laugh in the kitchen as you bake chocolate chip cookies. Or discovering how much you love tplaying Risk, Jenga, or Exploding Kittens.

You can always fall back on reminding each other of all the ways you’re helping each other stay healthy, and that every day we’re farther from the start of this outbreak and closer to the end.