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Helping Your Kids Deal with COVID-19 Anxiety

By: Jamie Harms, M.D.

Everyone is talking about the coronavirus, and you can be sure that little ears are listening.  This can be a scary time for children. They may hear about COVID-19 deaths and worry what will happen if they or you get the disease.

Children and teens are influenced by what they see in their parents. If they see you dealing with the coronavirus calmly and confidently, they will feel more secure. Here’s how to help your children deal with COVID-19 anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety is often expressed in your child’s behavior. Watch for these common symptoms of anxiety and stress:

  • Returning to behaviors they have outgrown, such as thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums, engaging in baby-talk, or bedwetting
  • New or recurring fears
  • Inability to relax or calm down
  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
  • Stomachaches, upset stomachs, or a loss of appetite
  • Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or having frequent nightmares
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs in teens

Ways to support your child

  • Talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer their questions in a way that your child or teen can understand.
  • Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Tell them not everyone gets COVID-19 and discuss things your family is doing to stay safe, such as handwashing, cleaning and social distancing. See tips for fighting COVID-19 below.
  • Let them know it’s ok if they feel upset. Tell them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
  • Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. A steady stream of COVID-19 news can raise your child’s anxiety level. Also, some information on social media is sensational or outright false and may frighten children.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines to help your kids feel more “normal.” With schools closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
  • Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members.

Show them how to fight COVID-19

Children will feel better if they know there are things they can do to stay well and help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Help them practice these recommendations from the CDC:

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash.
  • Wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing, going to the bathroom, and before eating or preparing food. See this CDC video.
  • If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Keep their hands out of their mouth, nose and eyes. This will help keep germs out of their body.
  • Practice social distancing: When in public, keep at least six feet away from other people.
  • Stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick.

 Feeling stressed yourself?

 With all disruptions coming from the outbreak, it’s no wonder if you’re feeling more anxious. You can help your children by trying to be calmer. Listen to these simple mindfulness/relaxation exercises to relax and destress.

 To learn more, see this CDC information on COVID-19, or contact your MPCP physician.