With the advent of COVID-19, life as we have known it has changed drastically. Not only has it turned our adult lives upside down, but the lives of our children have also been drastically impacted. No one really knows how much anxiety they are under, or how their young world is being affected.
Gone are the normal social activities and face-to-face interactions, and in their place they have uncertainty, fear, boredom, decreased physical activity, staying up late, hard to get out of bed, and increased levels of stress. They miss the everyday things of life that we all took for granted before the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdown, no sport, no travel, social distancing, and being cooped up in the house are just some of the major adjustments children have been facing. For a growing child, a year is a very, very long time. They are suffering loneliness for their friends.
These changes have undoubtedly affected the physical and mental health of adults and children alike, but for children, adapting to such major and sudden changes has posed a real challenge.
Childhood anxiety has significantly increased during the pandemic
The pandemic has left many mothers and fathers unemployed or forced to stay at home to care for their children, who must now do online schooling, leaving parents worried about the future and how they will provide for their families. This increased financial stress and uncertainty is a significant burden, and just one more reason for increased anxiety levels today.
The situation has undoubtedly put increased pressure and stress on the entire family. In fact, many children’s stress and anxiety is a reflection of their parents’ state, and this is something children will directly pick up on. Parents should be mindful of this fact, and work to manage their own emotional states, while also learning to recognize signs of anxiety and danger in their children.
Symptoms of anxiety in children
So what are some of the ways anxiety can manifest in children? For young children, they may suffer from a loss of appetite, poor sleep, urinary incontinence, or they may cling more tightly to their parents. Young children may even show regression in their growth and development. For example, a toddler who has been walking may suddenly no longer walk, or a child who has recently learned to speak may become silent again.
For school-aged children, anxiety may result in them shutting themselves off, withdrawing from talking to others, becoming disinterested in school or other activities, or being unable to concentrate. They may become irritable, disobedient, or even violent and destructive. Anxiety may also manifest physically in the form of frequent headaches or stomachaches. For teenagers, they may become more rebellious, angry, or even harm themselves.
Let’s explore some of the things you can do to alleviate your children’s anxiety
It’s important to be aware of how anxiety can manifest in your children so that you can open the lines of communication and help them through it. There is much parents can do.
1. Listen to your child
Listening to your child’s concerns and fears, even if they sound absurd or irrational, is important. It will not only help your child unload their worries, but it will also give you an opportunity to allay their fears, and explain things in a way that they can understand. Remember, children overhear what we say, and they may also hear things from peers and the media, which can lead to irrational fears or confusion. Children have limited control over their world, and they rely on us for proper guidance, so checking in with them regularly is a good idea.
2. Listen to what your child is not saying
If your child has a hard time expressing himself, you can ask him to draw a picture about what he’s feeling, write his feelings in a journal, or find a professional for him to talk with. The important thing is to keep the lines of communication open and reassure your child that you’re there to support them. Children often do not want to worry their parents, s, they bottle things up inside, and pretend everything is OK.
3. Control network messages
With children spending more time at home, and likely more time on the Internet, it is important for parents to carefully monitor the messages and channels their children are exposed to. Young minds are easily influenced, and there are many things they cannot understand or emotionally process. By being mindful of what your children are exposed to, you can prevent harmful content from reaching them, while using it as a teaching opportunity about why it’s important not to view certain things. For all of us, what we put in our minds matters, but this is especially true for our children.
4. Teen anxiety: Keep an open relationship with your teens
Parents of teenagers should consider whether they want them on social media, and if they are, it’s wise to monitor who they’re interacting with. Explaining to your teen why this is important, and maintaining a good relationship with open communication, is key. This way, they will be more comfortable confiding in you and discussing new friends they make on social platforms, allowing them to share any concerning interactions.
5. Add interesting activities to your children’s schedule
In addition to keeping a regular schedule for online schooling, parents can also schedule healthy and fun activities at home each day, such as playing ball in the backyard, doing yoga, taking a family walk, doing crafts, or playing chess or other family games. Children can also video chat with classmates, neighbors, and extended family members every week.
Following a daily schedule provides a sense of consistency for children, and gives them something they can rely on. We all operate better this way.
6. Teach your child to relax and be grateful
Set aside at least 15 minutes every day to practice a relaxation exercise with your children. Let them sit or lie down quietly with you, take some deep breaths, and focus on being grateful for being together as a family. Reassure them that you will always be by their side, and teach them to cherish what they presently have, rather than focusing on the unpredictable future. Parents can also take advantage of this time to share their own feelings of gratitude with their children.
7. Teach your children to stay positive
Teaching your children to have positive thoughts in general is also a great idea. Your mind has a powerful impact, so replacing worries with positive thoughts can not only help alleviate anxiety, but can even have a positive impact on your health.
8. Share accurate and rational pandemic news with your child
It’s not uncommon for children to feel scared or anxious about what may happen in the future. Instead of letting their imaginations run wild, parents can periodically ask their children what questions they have about the pandemic. Rationally explain the situation, and teach some simple preventive measures to protect themselves and others.
The Department of Health and the CDC both have information to help with this, and parents can also involve their doctors in the discussion.
9. Parents should manage their own emotions first
In order to provide strong support for your children, parents must learn to first take care of their own emotions.
Managing your own stress and anxiety is one of the best things you can do for your children. Children will pick up on your anxiety, and when they see you have something to worry about, they’ll certainly think they should worry as well.
Keeping a rational perspective on things, not overindulging in news about the pandemic, doing relaxation exercises, and focusing your mind on positive things can all help reduce anxiety.
While it’s sometimes a challenge to manage your worries, they ultimately start and end with you. By eliminating negative thoughts, and replacing them with positive ones, you will not only help yourself, but you will help your children as well.
Translated by Patty Zhang
Children are remarkably resilient. In spite of all the pandemic-induced anxiety, with help from mom and dad, your young heroes are taking it in their stride! (Image: Lucélia Ribeiro via flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)