The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives in countless ways. While adults are feeling stress during this time, children may also be experiencing stress and worry. Helping children cope with COVID-19 and the resulting stress is essential. First, it’s important to know that stress, anxiety, depression, and grief can show up in a variety of ways for kids and teens.
When kids and teens are stressed, this might look like…
- Excessive crying
- Reverting to old behaviors (like bedwetting)
- Loss of appetite
- Poor concentration
- Loss of interest in usual activities, including time with friends
- Somatic symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
How to help
There are many ways you can help your children and teens cope with stress and worry resulting from COVID-19.
Talk about the COVID-19 pandemic
You can encourage children to write out or draw their feelings and thoughts about COVID-19, and then respond reassuringly. Listen carefully and validate their fears. Let them know that it’s okay to be upset. Answer children’s questions truthfully without including unnecessary facts. Talk about rumors and gently correct misinformation.
Use developmentally appropriate language and avoid adult-level conversations about COVID-19 when children are listening. Adolescents may benefit from visual data to help them understand more about COVID-19, such as a chart about what flattening the curve means.
Help them feel safe
Explain that simple things like washing hands can increase safety. This chart can help children learn and remember how to stay safe and healthy. Let them know that doctors and scientists all over the world are working hard on a cure and a vaccine. The experts will let us know when we can safely return to specific activities. Remember to offer plenty of love and affection.
Limit news and social media. Consider limiting overall screen time and encouraging kids to play outside, if possible. Research shows that spending time in nature can calm your nervous system.
Establish routines as much as possible. This helps children feel in control and increases predictability and calm in their lives. This can include schoolwork, activities, and chores.
Share how you deal with stress and worry, and be a role model
Children look to adults for guidance when they are stressed. They will learn coping skills by watching you. Remember to take care of yourself: stick to your routine, especially for sleep and healthy meals. Model kind behavior and teach kids to be kind to everyone, no matter what they look like.
Be grateful—spend time sharing what you are thankful for as a family. You can also use a gratitude journal. Draw or write about what each family member is grateful for every day.
Spend quality time together
Make art, play games, exercise, spend time in nature, read out loud, play music and sing. Plan a picnic together. Teach your children to cook their favorite meal. Focus on the positive. You can still make new memories together despite all the changes to daily life.
Connect with family and friends. Call and FaceTime family and friends. Try virtual play dates. Help others who need it. You can write letters to elderly neighbors who are stuck inside, for example.
The University of Minnesota Health provides a list of helpful children’s books and workbooks for children and teens of all ages. These resources can help children learn to identify and talk about their emotions, deal with anxiety and worry, and cope with loss and grief.
The Child Mind Institutes offer a wealth of resources for parents and children, including help with back-to-school anxiety, Facebook Live video chats with expert clinicians, and managing behavior and discipline during this challenging time.
Having difficulty coping?
When helping children cope with COVID-19, you may need additional support. Do you feel you or your child would benefit from more support during this stressful time? Please reach out to us. Our team of therapists is here to provide help and guidance. We look forward to connecting with you!
Kate is the Founder and Clinical Director of Sage House Counseling & Art Therapy. With nearly ten years of clinical experience, I partner with you to connect back to your authentic, true self. The self that desires happiness, abundance and greater self-compassion. I work with clients just like you because I believe we all have the innate ability to heal and grow when we are heard and supported.