Coronavirus Concerns & Children: How to Help Children Deal with Covid-19 Anxieties

Posted by iChild, March 25, 2020 10:04 AM

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott discusses the challenges facing families.

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).

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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 (mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/looking-after-your-mental-health-during-coronavirus-outbreak).

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; mummies and daddies getting sick and going to 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 child 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. 

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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 itself will have the impact of calming and reassuring your kids, and of 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. (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 (NHS in the UK, WHOCDC in the US).

- Reassure but don’t over-promise.

- 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.
 

GirlandMum

By Psychotherapist Noel McDermott

Don't forget, you'll find thousands of activities and educational resources for children on the iChild website.

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