Helping Anxious Kids During the Time of Coronavirus

Most of the time, children are resilient.  They bounce back pretty quickly.  Of course, there are always those kids who have a harder time with change or with difficult circumstances, kids that Dr. Thomas Boyce refers to as the “orchids” in the greenhouse They are the ones who are more sensitive to their environment than usual and require more attention than the average child.  Understanding the Orchid Child

stressed child   Today, however, it may feel like every child is an orchid.  With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting school and forcing families to stay at home, even the children with a deep well of resilience are probably feeling a little frayed around the edges.  They may be acting out, having trouble focusing on schoolwork at home, refusing to do normal routines such as bathing and brushing teeth, and may even seem to be regressing to more childish behaviors.  All of these behaviors can be symptoms of anxiety. Here are some ideas that may help your child cope better.

First, take a good look at yourself.  If you are having trouble controlling your own stress, your children will react to that. It’s as if they have little antennas that pick up all of the emotions that you wish you could hide.  Displaying as calm a demeanor as possible will help them to cope with their own anxiety. And remember not to use your children as surrogate “friends” with whom you can discuss your own fears.

All of your schedules have been disrupted but you, as the adult, are more likely to understand why.  Try to create a new schedule in words or pictures that are appropriate to your child’s age.  It will help the child know what to expect when, and to differentiate between time to pay attention and time to play.

Although you understand what the words coronavirus and pandemic mean, it is unlikely that your children do.  Try to explain what is happening in a simple way.  You want to give them some facts to hang on to, but don’t want to make them more fearful than they might already be. And remember not to let your older kids watch continual reruns of the same news over and over; it will only make them more anxious.  Remind your children that they have friends who are in the same situation, even if they see those friends on Zoom during the day.

Make sure to use the technology not just for academics, but to maintain friendships for your children.  Facetime calls, Zoom get-togethers, even Skype birthday parties help remind kids that their friends are still there.  Also, consider using technology for helpful apps on meditation and mindfulness for kids.  YouTube has some wonderful cartoon-based mindfulness exercises. Here are a couple of links:  Mindfulness for KidsCosmic Kids Zen Den,  Meditation 101.  There are many more, some for younger children, some for older ones.

If you have children who were anxious before the pandemic, it is likely that they are even more so during this difficult time.  Reassure them, but try not to invalidate their feelings and fears.  Sometimes it helps to give them permission to worry, but not to worry all the time.  Try using a timer, and tell them that they can worry for five minutes every hour, and then go back to homework or playtime.

Finally, give yourself a break emotionally.  If the schoolwork doesn’t get done, it will not be the end of the world.  Do the best you can to be their teacher until the stress outweighs the value of what is being taught. While there are many techniques that can be used for children to cope with anxiety, the most important thing right now is for you to make your children feel loved, safe, and secure.