The current coronavirus situation is worrying for many people and children are especially vulnerable to the fear and anxiety experienced by the adults around them. A major change in the daily structure of the lives of kids is happening with the closure of schools and this may create very strong stress signals for children suggesting something bad is happening (of course some will no doubt welcome an early holiday).
It’s perfectly predictable that at the moment our kids are experiencing fear and distress and it’s important to acknowledge this and explore how they are feeling, but without adding to their alarm. Ask them what they have heard and respond in a way that validates their feelings and gives them factual information about what is happening.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott states that little ones might try to protect you from their distress and say they are fine, but it will show up in other ways such as:
- In their play, which can become preoccupied with the worries; parents getting sick and going to the hospital, people getting hungry, people fighting and getting angry with each other
- Kids might become avoidant when they are upset, not talking and withdrawing
- Behaviour may deteriorate and arguments and fights start
- Kids may ‘regress’ and start to act in a younger manner, depending on age you may see thumb sucking, incontinence, clinging behaviour
If you see these types of things you can gently explore with your kid why they think these behaviours are happening, allowing them to communicate their feelings verbally rather than behaviourally. It’s crucial to turn off all punishment signals and that you understand they are upset not bad.
Structure is Key
Get a daily structure in place for kids as soon as you can. Plan a weekly timetable of education and activities. Structure in and of itself will have the impact of calming and reassuring your kids and off course annoying them if it interrupts TV time! That structure should include regular sleep and wake times and regular mealtimes. Ensure physical activity is programmed in, even if you are isolating at home then program in family home gym activities. If you are allowed out or have a garden use this a lot! It will help you all. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html)
How to Help Your Children Deal with Covid-19 Anxieties
There are no right or wrong ways to talk to your kids and support them during the current public health crisis but here’s a helpful list of ways to think about it:
- Create an emotionally open and supportive environment
- Be honest and be accurate, use your government and UN sources of information (WHO, CDC in the US, NHS in the UK and Canada Health here at home).
- Reassure but don’t overpromise
- Validate your kid’s feeling whilst providing reassurance
- Talk at the level your kid can understand
- Control access to news channels to reduce access to frightening stories
- Kids will learn from how you behave, and they will personalise and try to protect you from their bad feelings which they will experience as very destructive
Because of your own fears your creativity may run dry when trying to think about activities for your kids, so here’s a few links to get you started. There are loads of activities and online events and classes popping up right now to help out parents. Most importantly remember you are not alone. reach out, network, share with other adults, stay connected and meet your needs where you can!
See the links below for some great online kids resource and activity sites around the world to get you started and remind you that you have the capacities and resources to get through this!
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist and International Speaker with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care and education. An impactful workshop leader, he delivers bespoke training on a range of social care, clinical and human rights ethics and issues across multiple sectors. He is the founder and CEO of three organisations, Psychotherapy and Consultancy Ltd, Sober Help Ltd and Mental Health Works Ltd. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual