The COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything most of us have experienced. It has struck virtually every country in the world, and is disrupting just about every aspect of our daily lives. Because it is both a lethal and novel virus, it is generating a high degree of uncertainty, anxiety and fear.
The added stresses of trying to stay safe and healthy in the midst of a pandemic is hard enough for adults, but for kids the stress can be doubly difficult. If a child has ADHD, suffers from other types of learning and attention challenges, or has suffered from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), the anxiety may be further amplified.
How Kids Might Exhibit Stress
The COVID-19 pandemic is a lot for a child to try to understand. They have to deal with an unexpected change in their daily routines, the sudden separation from friends, and, of course, fear of the virus itself. For children who rely on school meals, or whose family members are sickened or facing sudden unemployment, the fear is that much greater.
During this very stressful period, no matter what their age, children want to know three basic things:
- Am I safe?
- Are you, the people caring for me, safe?
- How will this situation affect my daily life?
Kids may feel a foreboding that something awful is about to happen and there isn’t much they can do about it. Stress may show up in a variety of different ways, depending on the age of the child. Anxiety in younger children may show up as “clinginess” or regressions, such as more bathroom accidents or comfort-seeking behaviors such as thumb-sucking.
For older kids, stress may result in mood swings and irritability. For tweens and teens, the separation from their peers can be especially difficult, even if they still keep in touch via electronic means.
For kids with ADHD, who might be more prone to anxiety and depression already, those symptoms can be heightened.
What You Can Do to Help Your Kids Reduce Their Stress
As a parent here are some things you can do to lessen your child’s stress.
- Control your own anxiety and model calmness for you kids – This is important because kids will take cues from their parents’ behavior and can be sponges for ambient anxiety in the household.
- Validate their feelings and concerns – Ask them how they are feeling and what they want to know. Reassure them with facts and logic that can give them a better perspective on the situation, and help them separate “what is” from “what if.” Keep them updated as new, reliable information becomes available. Make sure they know there are a lot of rumors and misinformation out there. Explain what they need to know. Be honest with your kids, but don’t tell them more than they need to know.
- Provide some structure and routines – Having a daily routine provides consistency during an otherwise very disrupted period of time. This is especially important for tings like mealtimes, sleep and exercise to maintain their physical and mental vitality.
- Give them a sense of control – It can seem to kids that they are helpless against the pandemic. But by educating them on the best practices for protecting against the virus – e.g., frequent hand-washing, hand sanitizers, wearing gloves, wiping down surfaces,etc.- it can provide a sense of some control.
- Help get our kids involved in activities that can redirect their attention – This can include a number of things. Exercise, going for walks (to the degree it is safe for them to be outside) and hobbies or special interests.
Despite the seriousness and uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, we have the ability to help each other and our kids be more resilient, emotionally balanced, and as physically protected during this time of crisis.
Below are sources for more information.