“A little worry or maybe even more than a little worry is good,” Molly Gardner, a pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told TODAY. “We know that a little worry helps us do the things we need to do like washing our hands or stay away sick people. “
But sometimes the worry turns to anxiety and children may need help dealing with this.
“When kids really seem to have this in mind all the time, they talk about it a lot, have trouble sleeping, seem clingy… so it’s okay to ask for a little help,” Gardner said.
One problem children (and adults) face with the COVID-19 pandemic is the unknown. There is so much that people don’t understand about the virus, the pandemic, or even how long social distancing will last.
“When we don’t know what’s going on,” Gardner said, “that’s when chaos can happen.”
Dr Deborah Gilboa, a parenting expert, said the coronavirus pandemic offers parents a chance “to help children deal with uncertainty and teach them the skills they need.”
Experts agree that parents should deal with their feelings before talking to their children. Parents should discuss their concerns with their friends – not their children – and take care of themselves.
“It’s important for parents to do things that help them feel better,” Gardner said. “Tracking those things that make us happy is important for parents and it’s going to have that positive downstream effect on their children.”
Gilboa shares four strategies parents can use to help a child manage their anxiety.
1. Find out what your children know
She recommends asking children what they know about the coronavirus first.
“You can correct the misinformation so that you can learn together,” she told TODAY Parents. “We can begin to let our feelings be informed by facts.”
Asking children where they learned something and why they trust that source can help them know how to gauge between legitimate news and hoaxes. It is a skill that they will need throughout their lives. And, it gives parents a chance to bring up news that might increase a child’s anxiety. But it is important to listen to their feelings without neglecting them.
“Empathize with your children’s feelings, don’t tell them their feelings are wrong,” she said.
2. Determine what children need to feel safe.
Some children might fear that friendships have suffered without school. Some might feel upset that a year was wasted playing sports or events, such as prom or graduation. This is why it is important for parents to ask their children what they are afraid of losing.
“It’s the first thing we do, we count the losses,” said Gilboa. “We have to be able to determine what we need to feel safe. “
Then parents can help their children deal with this loss. Maybe virtual play dates reassure a child that their friendships will last. Or encouraging a child to practice soccer drills can help them focus on sharpening skills even if the season is canceled.
3. Focus on what we can control
While some kids may not care about missing school, others may obsess over it. Parents can’t do anything about school closures, so they should instead focus on what they can do to fight the pandemic: practicing social distancing, wash one’s hands or cover up a cough or sneeze.
“Another thing children can control is paying attention to their bodies. Let an adult know if you are not feeling well. Pets, not humans. Keep your hands to yourself, ”she said.
She also advises parents “not to make promises they cannot keep”. If a birthday party is canceled, don’t tell the child that it will be rescheduled in two weeks when it’s not clear how long businesses will be closed.
“Say” I hope. I think. I’m not sure, ”she said. “Don’t make promises you can’t control.”
4. Give them skills to cope
Now is the perfect time for parents to help their children develop positive coping mechanisms.
“Keep a list on the fridge of the things that make you feel better, safe, and healthy,” Gilboa said.
Having a longer list makes it easier for kids to cope. Exercising, drinking water, watching favorite YouTube videos, or video chatting with a loved one are all examples of activities kids might enjoy that will help them fight anxiety.
“It won’t just help your kids deal with this stressor, it will help them cope for the rest of their lives,” Gilboa said.
This article was published in March 2020 and has been updated.