Helping Kids with Anxiety & Stress During the Pandemic
It’s not a secret COVID-19 pandemic has left the general population grieving major loss:loss of income security, loss of personal health, loss of loved ones, loss of human interaction, loss of normalcy…the list goes on. While adults usually have some type of process to deal with their emotions, some healthy and some unhealthy, children are watching and absorbing all that is going on around them with no idea how to decipher what they are actually feeling. This can lead to major stress, anxiety, and even depression in these young persons. While both adults and children can experience anxiety and depression, the symptoms can look different in children. According to child psychologist Jernigan-Noesi, anxiety in young children can result in reverting back to behaviors they may have previously outgrown, such as tantrums, bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, clinginess, etc. Giselle Rodriguez points out that for adolescents, signs they’re dealing with anxiety can be withdrawal, loss of appetite, over-eating, heightened sensitivity and agitation, etc. If you’re a parent of children experiencing some of these symptoms, know you are not alone, and know there is something you can do to help your children.
Create Open Communication with Children
Providing a safe space for children to express their feelings, emotions, and fears allows children to feel more secure and can lessen anxiety. Additionally, while adults generally know how to put our feelings into words, young children don’t have the vocabulary to do so. Ask them questions like, “What does this make you think of?” or “What does this make you want to do?” Help them identify their anger and fear and work through it in a healthy way. Teach them to replace negative thinking with positive thinking. Showing them they are not alone and are heard are BIG helpers. Also, this creates an opportunity for parents to teach their children about hope–while the future is uncertain there is hope for better times.
Create a Routine
Younger children need routines to help keep them grounded in a type of normalcy. To some extent this may not be possible due to working-from-home, virtual schooling, etc., but keeping morning routines, mealtime routines, and bedtime routines can help them orient to their surroundings. Older children need the stability of routines, too. With age appropriate involvement, figuring out a structured day can help them stay productive and feel more in control. An example would be: wake up, breakfast, school, lunch, chores, personal time, dinner, family activity, bedtime.
Facilitate intentional family time for fun activities. This can help grow the relationships within the family, build trust, and raise morale. Maybe even let the children decide activities they would like to do. Physical activity releases endorphins which can help combat depression as well, so finding activities where you can get moving is always a plus!
Social interaction is IMPORTANT! Humans have a basic need to be social, and it’s no different for the tiny humans. Meeting this need for small children and adolescents will look different and have its own challenges. For young children, allowing them to facetime with grandparents or other child-friends can be helpful. For older children, texting can be beneficial, but it does not replace face-to-face interaction. Organizing facetimes or socially distanced activities with other families better fulfill needs for socialization than text messaging and/or social media.
Take Care of Yourself
This may seem out of place when we are talking about how to help children, but parents, your children are watching you. These little minds are learning how to cope with their big emotions by seeing how you are, or aren’t, dealing with yours. It’s important that you are creating a safe space for them, but in order to do that you need to know coping mechanisms for yourself. Dealing with stress productively by going on walks or taking a moment to say, “I need a minute to feel my feelings,” is imperative to teaching the younger ones how to cope. Sometimes it’s okay to be sad, mad, or afraid. Allowing yourself to feel these emotions and searching for answers together both helps your mental health and theirs. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help.