A Project of the Child Trends News Service Supported by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences

COVID-19 is Making Kids Anxious: What Can Parents Do?

“I’ve tried to give them permission to be upset because this is not a fun time,” shared Cynthia Soliz.

These days, Cynthia Soliz, like many other parents, is not just mom to 11-year old Anthony and 6-year old Petra, she is also a full-time cook, teacher, camp counselor and psychologist to her kids. And her time is stretched thin.

“We know that this is a time where families are extremely stressed, as are their children,” said Jessica Bartlett, Ph.D.

Developmental Scientist, Jessica Bartlett, says children are more vulnerable to the emotional impact of traumatic events that disrupt their daily lives. Some children may be irritable or clingy, and some may regress, and demand extra attention. Parents can protect their children’s physical and emotional health by practicing the three R’s: routines, regulation and reassurance.

“Adults should maintain routine so that children have a sense of predictability and safety,” says Bartlett.

But does having a routine mean parents should maintain a strict schedule? Absolutely not says Bartlett. It simply may mean having a beginning, middle and end to the day. A routine can involve anything from having one meal together at the same time each day or reading to your child each night before bedtime.

Regulation is the second R. This means helping children self-regulate.

“What that means is basically, children have to cope with big emotions when they’re stressed because their bodies activate their stress response system.” said Bartlett.

To help them manage these reactions, parents should first validate those feelings by saying something like, “I know that this might feel scary or overwhelming”. Then encourage them to try activities that help them self-regulate- like exercise, deep breathing, or meditation.

For the bigger kids, self-regulation can mean encouraging them to stay connected to friends, by texting, messaging or get on a video platform. Also, making sure they find time to exercise and eat healthy.

The third R is reassurance. That is, making sure that children know they’re safe.

“Having caregivers, they trust, let them know that their loved ones are safe, they’re safe, and that adults are working to protect their wellbeing,” says Dr. Bartlett.

What’s important to remember is that some conversation, even if it’s not great news, is better than no conversation at all.

“None of us know if we are really doing it right. I tell them all the time, ‘this is my first pandemic’” says Soliz.

Most experts agree, the single most important thing parents can do, is to practice self-care.

It’s just like flying in an airplane, the airline stewardess tells you to put your mask on first, before helping others. Because– if you run out of oxygen, you can’t help anyone else.

Use this link to decide what self-care strategies will work for you. https://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/resources/fact-sheet/taking_care_of_yourself.pdf

To watch local TV news report, see here: https://positiveparentingnews.org/news-reports/how-to-manage-kids-covid-19-stress/

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