How to help kids cope with anxiety during COVID-19 (SQ-128)The coronavirus crisis has certainly changed our lives in the most unexpected ways. Unknown, unpredictable changes to our day-to-day lives are giving rise to anxiety in both adults and children alike.
Parents around the world are struggling to help their children cope with everyday stress and anxiety during COVID-19 . With their daily routines disrupted, and with no social interaction with their friends in real time, it is not surprising that children are at a risk for developing anxiety, which can take a toll on their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
What can parents do to help ease coronavirus anxiety in children? How can they ease their child’s mind and help them transition into the ‘new normal’ in these unusual times?
What can stress and anxiety do to your child?When faced with so much uncertainty, it is normal for children to feel sad and anxious. However, you must find ways to help your child understand, process, and manage these negative emotions.
Persistent stress and anxiety can affect your child’s health in more ways than one. It can even have a lasting impact on their physical and emotional development.
What can you do to ease your child’s anxiety?There are several strategies to consider:
Be mindful of your own emotionsChildren take their cues from their surroundings. They are quick to pick up whether you are sad, upset, and worried.
Adults are facing their own set of challenges brought by this ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Working from home, taking care of their children’s needs and continuous uncertainty around health and jobs is making parents flustered and angry.
Children can easily pick up these anxieties and fears. It is important that you be mindful of what you say and how you act in front of your children.
While most children are resilient towards occasional outbursts and mood swings of their parents, frequent episodes and constantly voicing out your fears in front of your children can have adverse effects on your child’s overall health.
Remember you are their safe harbour, and your words and actions have a definite impact on their emotional well-being. Maintain a positive, happy environment, where they can thrive, feel safe and learn to cope with unwanted changes with confidence.
Listen to your child and give them hopeWill I die? What if my parents get COVID-19 and they die? What if I am left behind? Would I be able to see my parents if I get hospitalized? Will I ever see my friends or cousins or grandparents? Your child may be struggling with all sort of difficult questions, which can be a source of anxiety in these difficult times. Be patient and listen to their concerns.
Everyone around them is talking about COVID-19 crisis and how it is impacting their lives. It is all over the news. So, it is only natural that kids may develop fears about their health and that of their loved ones.
Let them know you are around to listen, to talk and to help. Never dismiss their concerns. Validate that they are right in feeling scared but at the same time keep them hopeful that everyone is doing their bit in fighting the situation. For example, everyone is maintaining social distance to prevent the virus from spreading further and that is why they are not able to meet their friends in person.
Most importantly, tell them it is not going to last forever and how scientists are working hard to find a way to beat the coronavirus. Explain it is a temporary situation, give them hope and that extra dose of love and reassurance that they need right now. And of course, discuss the importance of a healthy lifestyle, eating and sleeping habits. And throw in the fact that too much time spent in front of the computer or playing games on a mobile phone is not healthy. They might be house bound, but there are other things they could be doing.
Provide facts and informationFear of the unknown often fosters negativity and anxious thoughts, especially in children. Offer information and facts on coronavirus in words they can understand. Tell them how you can catch the infection, and how to reduce risk and stay safe.
Depending on their age, be clear on what to expect if a family member gets the infection and assure them that people recover and come back when they feel better. Information and clarity bring assurance and reduce anxiety. And make sure you are providing just enough information without adding to their anxiety.
Ask kids to focus on things that can be controlled like how to minimize the risk of catching the infection. For example, coughing and sneezing into their elbow, and washing hands frequently are some things that can be controlled.
Establish a routine but do not get carried away
The COVID-19 pandemic has invaded and disrupted our daily routine. Many schools have moved to online learning platforms and many parents are working from home. While these social distancing measures are important to contain COVID-19 both adults and children are struggling to adjust to these changes. If you can help your child to establish a daily routine, it can help restore some sense of normalcy.
Knowing what is next and what to expect can go a long way in making kids secure. However, do not forget to strike a balance. Here are some tips to creating structure and rules for your family during this crisis :
- Sit down with kids and create a daily schedule.
- Involve kids as much as possible and leave room for negotiations
- Establish a routine for meals, sleep, learning and exercise
- Encourage them to finish their school assignments on time
- Reward kids for their efforts and keep them motivated
- Keep your child gainfully engaged
- Allow enough room for fun breaks, free play and no-activity time.
- Eat meals together
Keep your child engaged
Online classes and virtual meetings are important, and that is probably already keeping your children engaged and busy. But figure out ways to fill their hours with other meaningful and constructive activities, that also reinforce togetherness, creativity and imagination.
You can get your child involved in planning a meal or even cooking, if they are old enough. Seek their help in cleaning the house and you may even set aside daily cleaning tasks for them. Encourage them to take up a hobby like painting, drawing, dancing, or reading for fun.
Some parents worry about increased screen time. However, it is important to understand that these are unusual circumstances and the use of digital devices – whether to join online classes, to meet friends over video calls or to play online games – is bound to increase. Set limits on technology use and be clear on the amount of time they can spend on online activities, besides online classes, and schoolwork.
As kids are going to spend more time online, and sometimes without your supervision, it also may be an opportune time to talk about online safety. Here are some useful resources that discuss how to keep your child safe while online during COVID-19.
How to keep your child safe online while stuck at home during the COVID-19 outbreak by UNICEF
Tips to keep children safe online during COVID-19 by KPMG
How to keep kids safe online during the coronavirus outbreak by Kaspersky
Focus on your child’s nutrition
Everyone has a lot on their plates. In between office work, virtual meetings, household chores and taking care of family, cooking nutritious meals and snacks at home can be a humungous task. It is easy to slip and turn to readymade and processed food, which are convenient and guarantee reduced time in the kitchen.
However, packaged food is devoid of any real nutrition and is loaded with sugar, fat and artificial flavors that cause damage to your health. Stressful times also lead to stress or emotional eating for both adults and children.
People are spending more time at home and there is easy access to food, which means you can eat anytime. In addition, stress eating, poor food choices and limited physical activity can all add up quickly, stirring up a prefect recipe for poor health.
It is time to pay close attention to what you and your child are eating especially when more than ever you need a strong immune system.
How can you encourage healthy eating habits?
- Include fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Focus on home cooked meals. Switch to grilling and baking recipes which take less time and effort.
- Encourage healthy snacking and stock up on options such as roasted nuts, cheese, yogurts and whole wheat crackers. It is heathier than munching on cookies, chips, and fries.
- Encourage your child to drink water throughout the day.
- Avoid stocking sodas and packed juices. Offer infused water, fresh juice, smoothies, and other healthy drinks that are also easy to make.
- Frozen fruit and vegetables are also a good option if you want to avoid making frequent trips to grocery store. But make sure you choose products that are free of added sugars, salts and other additives.
- Cut down on junk foods and keep them for special occasions.
- Make your kids eat at the table. Eating in front of television screen can cause them to overeat.
Encourage physical activity
Usually, children get enough exercise with outdoor activities such as physical education classes in school, cycling, running, dance classes and playing sports like basketball and football. Most of these outdoor activities are now restricted or completely stopped.
Staying physically active is important for your child’s overall growth and development. Regular exercise not only boost immunity but also reduces the risk of weight gain and childhood obesity. It can also reduce stress and anxiety in children .
Maybe it is not possible to let your child go and play outside, but there is a lot you can do to keep your child physically active around the house. You can organize a dance party. Jump rope, play hopscotch and indoor basketball are some ideas for how you can keep your child physically active. Get you child to help you in household chores such as taking out the rubbish, sweeping, vacuuming and doing dishes. Give them age appropriate tasks.
Here are some useful resources that offer tips on why and how to keep your kids active during COVID-19.
Physical activity for children under 5 years during COVID-19: Play your way and keep moving while at home. By British Journal of Sports Medicine
Physical activity for children and young people aged 5-18 years during COVID-19. Stay safe; be active. By British Journal of Sports Medicine
Fit Kids’ Home Workouts for Kids (And Adults!). By Fit Kids
Encourage your child to stay connected with friends
For children, social distancing can be devastating . Not being able to meet their friends and classmates for longer periods can cause stress and depression. While it is important to maintain social distance, it does not mean you cannot employ other means to stay connected.
Encourage your child to connect with friends and family members through video calls. They can simply talk to each other or do some fun activities together. Seeing their friends and grandparents on a regular basis is likely to make them happy and feel connected.
They can write emails to their friends, and it can become an important tool to communicate and share their feelings with each other.
Keep an eye on the signs of anxiety
It is not always easy to recognize early signs of anxiety in children as every child will deal with and respond to stress in their own ways. In addition, these warning signs may present in different ways depending on their age-group. It can be anything from excessive worrying, to difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much.
While young children may show signs such as excessive clinginess, meltdowns and throwing tantrums, teenagers can get aloof and emotionally withdrawn.
Knowing these red flags is one of the most important tools in helping children early on. So, if you find sudden changes in your child’s behaviour, it may be a sign that your child is getting anxious and stressed out.
If you are not able to manage your child’s anxiety or you have a child who is already suffering from anxiety disorder or depression, consider online therapy. But most importantly, be patient with your child and listen to their concerns . Take time out of your own schedule to talk and do activities together.