How to Help Your Child with COVID-19 Anxiety

Many families are facing major changes in their daily routines due to COVID 19. With all the unknowns that come with a new virus, it’s normal to feel anxious about the “what if’s” and the future. Any time a child faces significant change, it can cause fear and anxiety. When anxiety is not managed, it can affect both body and brain, and cause feelings of sadness and helplessness. There are ways parents can help children cope with this new stress and anxiety.

1: CREATE A ROUTINE.

One of the best ways to help children cope with change is to implement a “new normal” routine. Routines help children to anticipate what’s coming and help make them feel safe and secure. Work together with your child to create a new daily schedule. A healthy routine will help encourage children to maintain a regular sleep schedule, healthy eating habits, and daily physical activity. Make an effort to acknowledge small accomplishments, no matter how small. This can make a big difference in helping your child’s mood. It will take time to adjust, if the new schedule doesn’t go as planned, it’s okay, try again tomorrow. Be patient with yourself, it takes time to adjust.

2: CHECK IN FREQUENTLY AND LISTEN:

Check in with your child frequently and listen without interrupting about how they are feeling. Hearing your child validates their concerns, and keeping communication open is an important way to support them during this time. Acknowledge their feelings and let them know it’s normal to feel this way. Share ways you cope when you feel anxious. Together come up with ideas of activities or words to say to them when they are feeling anxious or worried. Sometimes your child just might need to hear that you’re there for them and you love them.

3: CATCH THE SIGNS OF ANXIETY EARLY:

Early warning signs can look different for everyone. For some, it might be biting nails or being fidgety, or looking irritable, or withdrawn.  Other typical symptoms include  excessive worry, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and trouble sleeping. Anxiety can present itself in different ways according to your child’s developmental age. For example: young children do not have the words or ability to express how they are feeling. So anxiety can show up in physical ways, such as aggression, meltdowns or tantrums. Older children, including teenagers, tend to feel more irritable and prone to isolate when they feel anxious. This is where it gets tricky, because teens do tend to normally isolate. Talk to your children about recognizing these warning signs and help them learn ways to respond when signs appear.  You can use the anxiety scale; ask your child to rate his/her anxiety on a scale from 0 to 10, this will help you both recognize you’re child’s anxiety level. Teach your child coping skills; deep breathing, counting backward from 100, creating a safe place/happy place in their mind, using all the senses to concentrate on when needed,  a safe room that makes them feel comfortable, tactile items, self care, meditation, exercise, reading, watching a comedy video, communication, drawing, etc. These physical activities  can help reduce anxiety and allow you to talk more with your child about how they are feeling as their anxiety goes down the anxiety scale.

4: FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL:

Instead of dwelling on things that are out of your control, teach your child to focus on things he/she can control. Focusing on controllable things that they have control of, can help your child think more logically and rationally. Anxiety mostly comes with “what-if” thinking , which focuses on negativity, fear, and the worse case scenario. If you can teach your child to stop themselves from “what-if thinking” when it first begins and choose something he/she can control instead, using their coping skills above, it will help stop negative thoughts and switch to positive thoughts, thereby lowering anxiety. You can’t tell a child to stop being anxious, but you can instead say, “tell me what you’re thinking about,” then together you can discuss and reflect on something positive. Take this time to discuss what you are grateful for or share positives about your child, the mood will eventually change.

5: STAY CONNECTED TO OTHERS:

Even though we have to maintain safety, there are ways to connect with others, social media, call family and friends, be outdoors, keep a safe distance and wear a mask.

6: SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP IF NEEDED:

It is very normal to experience stress and anxiety during this time. But, if your child’s anxiety persists or increases or starts to become debilitating,  it may be helpful to seek a Mental Health Professional. Signs your child may benefit from a Professional include; not being able to accomplish everyday tasks, not wanting to participate in activities they used to enjoy, not sleeping well, which can affect their energy and appetite.

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