What Kids Need During the Coronavirus Pandemic

For many children, living through the COVID-19 pandemic can be a scary and uncertain time.  When we think of own childhood, we remember or imagine happy care free times filled with little worry or anxieties.  And we of course wish the same for our kids.  Yet, today our kids are facing a new normal in unprecedented times.  As parents, we try to reassure our children that all will be okay.  But we are unable to answer the most sought after and basic question that our kids are asking. When will life be normal again, if ever?  In all honestly, we just don’t know what the future holds and when and if life will return to how we once knew it.  

Routines which are the backbone to our days have drastically changed.  Favorite after school activities and sports have been canceled and our whole lives from how we get groceries, to who we can see face to face, to how our children keep busy during their days has changed seemingly overnight.   

Most schools across the country have been closed for months and there is question as to whether they will open or not in the fall.  Many children who looked forward to having adventures at summer camps and being reunited with friends are heartbroken learning that their summer camps will not be able to open next month.  Many parents are left scrambling to figure out how they will keep their children occupied and happy during the summer months without formal activities, as they themselves will need to continue balancing work and family. 

Additionally, COVID- 19 has robbed our kids of celebrating important milestones such as graduations, proms, bat-mitzvahs, birthday parties and other end of school year celebrations such as barb-ques, musical concerts and field days .  These milestones are long anticipated and allow our children to create important memories and opportunities for extended family and friends to celebrate with them.  

As parents, we are carrying a double burden of worry.  We spend our days worrying about our kids contracting the virus itself and protect them by keeping them safe at home by practicing social distancing and good hygiene.  But as the days of COVID-19 turn to weeks we now begin to worry and wonder if our kids will be alright emotionally.  In fact, a recent study from Save the Children revealed that sixty-seven percent of parents are somewhat or extremely worried about their child’s emotional and mental wellbeing because of the coronavirus pandemic.  The good news is that we as parents can help minimize emotional impacts , by helping our children learn to understand their worries  and learn new skills to manage these new found stresses.  

What Does Worry Look Like?

A child’s worry, anxiety and stress can look very different than an adults’ and sometimes worry can present itself so subtly it is not so easy to recognize.  Some common symptoms of childhood stress and anxiety include

  • Moodiness or crying 
  • Acting Out, Lying or Defying Authority
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Regression such as bedwetting
  • Stomachs and headaches
  • Nightmares
  • Clinginess
  • Losing interest in once enjoyed activities
  • Academic problems

What Do Our Kids Worry About?

Worries that our children face will of course vary by age of child, but with regard to coronavirus some top worries that kids are facing are:

  1. Worry that they themselves or a family member or loved one will become ill with coronavirus.
  2. Worry that schools will remain closed in the fall. 
  3. Worry about missed school activities.
  4. Worry about missing friends and losing or changing friendships.
  5. Worry about being lonely or bored.
  6. Worry about family finances if parents become unemployed. 

As parents encourage your children to talk about their worries.  Some parents might think that talking about anxiety will cause even more anxiety in their child.  However, studies show that by helping your children find the words to express their feelings you are encouraging them to deal with their emotions in a healthy way free of stigma and shame.  

Not everyone is comfortable or has experience talking about their feelings. If you or your child  are not used to talking about feelings, getting started can seem a bit tough or even awkward at first.  Here is an easy way to get started and a great way to normalize feelings.  Spend a few minutes sharing some fears that you had at the same age or some fears that you have concerning the coronavirus today.  Next, ask your child about their feelings.  If they are sad let them know that it is okay to feel sad.  If they are unable to verbalize their feelings get out a piece of paper and pen or some crayons and draw pictures of what you both are feeling.  Recognize and validate their feelings and let them know that they are not alone in what they are feeling.

As parents, we are sometimes so quick in wanting to step in and fix things quickly and neatly for our kids.  It is always hard to see our children sad, suffering or feeling emotional pain.  But the best thing as parents that we can do is to help our kids to learn to deal and find solutions to challenging situations.  As your child is developing their skills and tools work on a solution together.  If your child is missing friends – have them brainstorm ways that they can connect with their friends in a safe and creative way.   Problem solve with your kids, rather than for them.  

Teach your children coping skills.   Remember children need guidance toward positive ways to relieve and manage stress.  Without healthy coping skills, kids are more likely to act out or choose unhealthy ways to cope such as overeating or turning to drugs and alcohol.  When kids are in control of their feelings and emotions they will act in control.  When feelings spiral out of control, kids will act out of control.   Some healthy coping strategies can include breathing exercises, mediation, drawing, exercise or even sitting down quietly with a good book.   Work with your child and have them come up with solutions that they enjoy and that are unique to them.

Lastly, remember that above everything else children simply need and want your love and patience.  Although they may ask and beg they don’t need that new bike or expensive video game to make them feel happy or secure.  They simply need your time and your uninterrupted presence.  Although, no doubt the coronavirus pandemic has left you juggling a multitude of responsibilities, carve time into your every day to connect with your children in simple ways.  Although it may seem like we have lost so much during this time  if we change our perspective there is still so much that we can do and so much we have gained.  Put away your phone, shut your computer down and snuggle up together and read a book.  When the weather is nice spend time outdoors taking a walk together or lying in the grass contemplating the shapes of the clouds.  Play bakery and make some deliciously tasty items. The opportunities to connect with your children and create new and amazingly meaningful memories and life lessons are endless and more important now than ever. 

https://www.savethechildren.org/us/about-us/media-and-news/2020-press-releases/majority-of-parents-worried-about-childs-emotional-and-mental-well-being-child to share any similar fears

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