Top tips to help manage children’s anxiety about COVID-19

LAURA’S PLACE

By Laura Kiln PgDip (CBT) (Child & Adolescence), BSc (Hons) CMHN

As I sit here it’s Sunday evening across the Coast, I guess many parents are preparing their children for back to school, back to “a new normal”, whatever that might be!

As the international impact of the COVID-19 virus continues to increase, news about the virus and its effect on everyday life dominates the media and has entered family discussions and classroom conversations throughout our global communities. Young ears hear all of these and then they try to work out what it means, maybe without asking you. That’s how some anxieties start.

While families grapple with even more changes to their work and school  routines many continue to miss and worry about their grandparents, especially those families lucky enough to have hands on grandparents, usually involved in child care.  

Increasing number of children are feeling uncertain and anxious about the future, another change in routine, even if it’s one they used to know, it’s going to be different. This is scary for little people who have been at home with mum or dad for the last weeks.

Similarly, many parents anxious themselves, may be left wondering how to best support the children in their lives around their anxiety.

Explaining Corona virus is dependent upon their age, and your family’s experiences. However, some general tips to support your children include:

  • Firstly do your research as to the latest rules, they are changing and also different from state to state. PLEASE remember that COVID19 hasn’t gone, we haven’t beaten it. It’s out there and we will see spikes in numbers as people return to “normal”.  Therefore hand washing and distance is still the way to remind children to adhere to these rules. However, trying to get kids not to touch each other, hug their friends and generally not socially distance, is going to be impossible. Just remind them about hand washing, and sneezing into their elbow. The exact information you provide your child about the changes they have already made whilst at home, now need explaining as they return to school. By all means remind the children to be careful, but don’t scare them with how they ‘might’ catch COVID, most of us will catch some form of the virus at some stage. We are lucky that the numbers are so small. At home they may not have washed their hands for the correct length of time, as they didn’t leave the house! Therefore they need to know to do the hand wash to the happy birthday song, times two verses!
  • Offer alternatives to speaking. Some children may find it difficult to articulate how they are feeling. Play-based activities such as ‘messy play’ (eg; slime, playdough, water-play) and art tasks (eg; drawing and painting) may help children express themselves and process how they are feeling.
  • Playing with dolls or figures can help child make sense of the information that they have been told at school. If you hear this, try to join in and add the information you want to install in your child.
  • Keep routines in place.  Routines are essential for children to grow and develop typically. In the event of enforced changes to school and work routines, implement an adapted daily routine within your household (i.e. chores, homework). of what you were doing, when you were all at home. Some ideas include: baking, family games and outdoor play.
  • Frame changes to routine in a positive way. It’s all part of getting back to normal “nothing to worry about”
  • Recognise and manage your own feelings. Children are highly attuned to the responses and feelings of adults around them. Remain calm when speaking to your children and others about the virus and model calm behaviour in implementing prevention efforts (including hygiene practices or other changes to routine). 
  • Find out what information your child already knows. For school aged children, gently ask what they have heard about the Coronavirus. Offer them an opportunity to discuss any concerns, and calmly correct any misconceptions they may have. Be mindful that each child at school will have a different idea in their heads, so check in as to what they do know.
  • Provide children with the information they need to know.
    Be honest and accurate in the information you provide and answer any questions they may have. Do not dismiss any questions or concerns they raise. Inform your children calmly and reassuringly about any changes to  school and home routines.
  • Make yourself available to spend quality time with your children. This helps to reinforce that they are safe and offers them ample opportunities to speak to you about how they are feeling.
  • Limit exposure to media. Non age-appropriate information may increase anxiety and confusion, especially in young children.
  • Seeking Support

If you would like further advice about how to support in managing children’s anxiety about Covid-19, or you are concerned about how your child is coping, it may be helpful to seek some professional support.

Laura’s Place has well-established telehealth options to allow us to continue to provide services for our clients.  To schedule an appointment please telephone the office.

Please note: Information and advice about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, some information contained in the article above may no longer be current at time of publishing.

Laura Kiln has moved to the Central Coast from the UK where she worked in London at the Institute of Psychiatry and the National Specialist Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health. She has over 20 years experience of working with families and is internationally recognised as an expert in the field of Parenting. She has four children herself and is used to the dramas of family life. Her practice ‘Laura’s Place’, is open for self or GP referral. Tel: (02) 4385 5587  www.laurasplace.com.au Laura has appeared on Channel 9 TODAY show as a parenting expert.

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