How to help kids manage anxiety or distress

2 April 2020

No matter how much we might try to shield children from bad things happening in the world, they usually know something is wrong, even if they don’t understand what. This, combined with massive routine changes because of schools going pupil free, can lead to anxiety or distress in children.

This distress can manifest in different ways. Children might get angry and upset but not able to connect this to the anxiety they feel, which only makes things harder for parents.

The Coordinator of our Circles of Support counselling program has shared some recommendations to help children through these times:

Keep a routine

Divide the day up into segments: chores, rest, play and schoolwork. Keep this routine roughly the same each day.

Involve children in tasks around the home

Working with children while doing everyday household chores can have a calming effect (at least on them, if not you!).

Have some outside time each day

Exposure to sun and fresh air is calming to the system. Go on a bike ride or walk as a family (while keeping to social distancing requirements).

Look after yourself too

Children are quick to pick up on our anxiety or worry, so it’s important that you manage your mental health as well. Have a selection of things you can do if you find yourself getting upset. This could include some active self-care, mindfulness exercises, talking to a friend away from the children, or listening to some calming music.

Keep children away from media reports

Turn off the TV or radio news when kids are around and try not to talk about the reports where they can overhear. Consider limiting your own exposure to the media too.  When you do look at the media, make sure it’s accurate and from a credible source. This will help maintain perspective and give a more balanced idea of our situation.

Talk to your children

Even if you’re limiting exposure to the media, you can’t fully eliminate it and your children will figure that something’s going on. It’s important to talk to them about the virus and the related media coverage.

Talk about their worries and fears. Provide factual advice suitable for their age, such as: “doctors are working on medicine to help attack this virus and parents will look after children to help keep them safe and well”.

World YWCA developed a comic strip on explaining COVID-19 to children, and Emerging Minds has advice on talking to children about natural disasters, traumatic events, or worries about the future.

Encourage children to watch shows and read books that contain humour

Humour is important when so much of our lives has become serious. There are plenty of funny shows and books for all ages that are still educational.

(On that note, one dad has gone so far as to use the mantra “What would Bandit do?”, taking parenting cues from Bluey to get through the crisis.)

If your children are struggling, you could suggest they call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or reach out via the WebChat. Kids Helpline’s counselling service is available all day, every day, for kids age five upwards. They can also help parents who are worried about their kids.

Of course, one of the best things you can do to help your child is model the hygiene and lifestyle choices you want to see in them. By doing that together, you can both contribute to reducing the spread of this virus.

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