Most parents are appropriately concerned with keeping their families safe from the new coronavirus (COVID-19) and preventing its spread. But there is another aspect of this crisis that you should not ignore — its effect on your family’s mental health.
Grim news reports, the scary reality of the virus, and changes in routine are just a few reasons you and your children may be feeling heightened anxiety during this time. It’s a very natural reaction to an unnatural situation. What matters most is how you react to feelings of coronavirus anxiety and stress.
Our experts at the Pediatric Mental Health Institute offer some tips to help you and your kids cope with COVID-19-related anxiety in a healthy way.
Helping kids cope with coronavirus anxiety
Your kids may have questions about the coronavirus or feel unsettled by the change in their routine. This may be particularly challenging for kids who are used to learning, playing and participating in organized sports with their peers every day. Here are ways to make this time more manageable.
Talk to your kids about the coronavirus
Yes, it’s simple. But it’s one of the most effective ways you can help kids manage their coronavirus anxiety. Take time to provide age-appropriate information to your child. Clarify information they bring to you, dispel myths and explain realistic ways your family can prevent the spread of the virus.
Make sure you explain why you are doing certain things, like social distancing and frequent handwashing. If your child knows why you’re asking them to do something they’re more likely to do it.
Limit screen time
Spending more time being active and less time in front of a screen can boost your child’s mood (and yours). Avoiding a constant stream of COVID-19 news can also reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Set specific times of the day when you check in on the news but try to avoid the news once you feel properly informed.
Connect with others
Think of social distancing more as physical distancing. Try to maintain connections with loved ones when you can’t physically be with them. With your children, write emails or letters to loved ones, make videos to share and call your family members. If you have younger children, work with other parents to set up calls and virtual playdates with friends.
If you are the primary caregiver for your kids during this time, don’t forget about your need to connect. Take time to get your own support from those who provide you with encouragement and solidarity. In order to care for your child’s needs, you need to care for your own.
Remember to show gratitude and humor
This is a time of adjustment for everyone and will likely bring anxiety and discomfort. That means it’s even more important to engage in healthy coping behaviors as a family. Find gratitude, humor and fun wherever you can. Create a gratitude jar as a family, watch online entertainment provided by national aquariums and zoos. Dance, allow yourself to be silly with your children, and write letters to friends and family members. This will be a time of increased stress and changing routines, but it can also be a time to find joy if you make it a priority to look for it.
Learn other healthy ways to cope with stress.
How to create a routine during the coronavirus outbreak
The coronavirus pandemic is disrupting nearly every aspect of our daily lives and this can be particularly unsettling for kids. Children thrive on predictable routines and will look to the adults in their lives for reassurance and support as schedules change.
As you settle into your new normal, new habits and practices as a family can be grounding for everyone. Here are five ways to build a new routine during this time.
Start your days with intention
Morning routines help start the day off on the right foot. Regular activities like making the bed, changing clothes (instead of staying in pajamas all day), maintaining physical hygiene and eating a nutritious breakfast will support your child’s mental health during this change.
Maintain regular contact with others
Maintaining positive social connections is vital for our well-being and health. While we may not be able to engage in face-to-face contact with friends and family, encourage your children to reach out to friends and loved ones through social media, video calls, phone or text.
Get out and move
Get your kids outside as often as you can. Take walks, ride bikes, exercise indoors or engage in outside play as a family each day. As long as you’re practicing safe social distancing and following any local rules related to group activities, exercise can reduce coronavirus anxiety. Movement can assist in managing negative emotions while increasing positive ones.
Maintain a healthy sleep routine
Creating and maintaining regular bedtime routines for your children (and yourself) is helpful during this time. Keep your child’s school-night bedtime the same during this time. This will help maintain a regular routine for your child and help them transition back to school when that time comes. Avoid screen time, exercise and food for at least an hour or two before bed.
Learn more tips for helping kids fall (and stay) asleep.
Connect with your child
While it might seem like you’re overly connected with your child during social isolation, try to set aside time each day to check in with them on how they are feeling and answer their questions. An activity known as “Thorn, Rose and Blossom” might help. In this activity, you ask each person to identify that day’s “thorn” (meaning something stressful or challenging), “rose” (meaning something positive or something they’re grateful for) and “blossom” (meaning something they are looking forward to).
Helping teens deal with coronavirus anxiety
Social distancing is challenging for all of us, but especially for teenagers. Teens rely on their friends and view contact with them as extremely important. They’re also gaining independence and actively questioning authority. So, how do we help them cope with these changes and follow public health advice that can protect their health, and ours?
Listen with respect
As their world changes rapidly, teens are likely to feel anxious, scared, angry or sad. Take time to give them your undivided attention. Be respectful of the stress they’re feeling as they lose their routine and access to friends. Feeling heard can help with the loss of control they are experiencing.
Include teens in decision-making
During times of high stress, you might feel the need to issue rules, rather than share the decision-making. But teens are more likely to follow guidelines if they buy in to them. Explain why social distancing is important and discuss opportunities where they can get outside and see their friends — safely. Give them the opportunity to ask questions.
Be a role model
Your actions may be the biggest influence on how seriously your teen takes current recommendations. That means you need to follow social distancing rules, too.
Explain to your teen that even though their age group might not be as likely to become seriously ill with coronavirus disease, disregarding public health recommendations puts vulnerable people at much greater risk.
Lastly, during times of high stress, it’s important to model healthy coping strategies. Your ability to be calm, patient and understanding with others, and yourself, will not only be grounding for those around you, it will demonstrate that it is possible to manage difficult emotions and challenging times.
Additional resources for the coronavirus
From answers to parents' top questions to important phone numbers to know, we've gathered the coronavirus information you might need during this time and put it all in one place.