Helping our Children Cope with COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Dr. Stephanie Grant, LCSW, 144th Fighter Wing Director of Psychological Health
  • 144th Fighter Wing

A couple months ago who would have ever dreamed how our lives would change. All around us, news of the novel coronavirus dominates the information we take in on a daily basis. Many of our day to day routines have altered dramatically. Anxiety and worry are commonplace as people think about the days ahead.

It is no surprise that our children are feeling worried too.  Our children take their cues from the adults around them. Therefore, as parents and adult caregivers, we must find ways to reduce our own stress and anxiety. As adults, when we are calm, it is much easier to reduce the fears of our children.

Dr. Dawn O’Mally from the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests the following steps to ease COVID-19 anxiety for families, especially children:

Step 1: Get the Facts

As the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” In any situation, one way to reduce stress is to know the facts. With COVID-19, though, it seems like information is everywhere. What we know about this new virus changes quickly, so it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not.  

To find facts about COVID-19, and not become overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to stick with just one or two trusted resources. Facts often can help reduce stress, especially for children with anxiety. If your child is fearful of sickness, for example, you can remind them that the reason people are staying home is to stop the virus from making people sick.   

Step 2: Establish a Routine

COVID-19 is disrupting our daily lives in a lot of ways. Kids may be going to school online, for example, while parents work from home.  

Although the amount of impact is different for each person, everyone is still affected to one degree or another. Creating a daily family routine can help adults and children alike regain a new sense of “normal.” 

One way to do this is by structuring your children’s day as close as possible to what it was before COVID-19. For example, have them:

  • Wake up, get dressed and eat breakfast at the same time they did when going to school.  
  • Go to a non-distracting area of your home to work on school assignments during the hours they usually would be in school.  
  • ​Copy the school schedule by switching activities every 30-40 minutes or so. At “lunch time,” eat lunch together.   

Step 3: Engage In Self-Care

It’s always important for kids to get enough sleep, eat healthy food and engage in physical exercise. During times of anxiety, these self-care activities become even more essential. 

You may want to think about the types of activities that relax your child when they experience other stressful events. What do you do to relieve fears at the beginning of a school year, for example? Build those same soothing activities, as well as self-care actions, into your family routine. 

Step 4: Stay Connected 

“Social distancing” measures are meant to keep people healthy. However, children may be sad or even mad about needing to limit their in-person interactions with friends and family.  

To keep kids from feeling alone, help them stay connected with others in new ways. Use technology like Skype, Zoom, Facetime or other apps to set up “virtual playdates.” Let friends play a game or eat together. Go on a neighborhood web page and let kids shop online for groceries for an elderly neighbor. Or, just set up regular times for your children to talk with their friends on the phone.  

The same holds for adults, as well. Meet virtually with business groups, friends or family regularly. Don’t let physical distancing keep you away from your social support networks.  

Step 5: Focus On the Positive 

Children with anxiety often perceive threatening situations to be more of a danger than they really are, and it takes longer for their bodies’ stress response to “turn off.” But reassurance from parents can go a long way toward calming them. Let kids know that even though there’s still much to learn about COVID-19, it’s up to the adults to figure it out, and they don’t need to worry. Stay positive. Talk about all the things people are doing together to help each other and stay healthy.  

It’s a conversation you may need to have many times over the coming days. But one of the best ways to reduce anxiety is simply to make time to talk.