Helping children with anxieties and stresses during the pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has been an extremely worrying time for all. As adults, we have a greater understanding of why we must remain at home and stay safe. We also understand the consequences should we break Government ruling regarding lockdown etc.
Imagine how a child feels. Suddenly, their complete lives have been turned upside down.
Forbidden to play out, unless it is within the confines of their gardens, no schooling, no parks open, no means of recreation with friends, unable to visit and be with their extended family. Birthdays alone, parties cancelled, celebrations without school friends. Parents are working from home. Maybe parents are ‘keyworkers’, some even unable to come home due to their job responsibilities. Holidays cancelled. Strict rules for shopping and time outside their home.
Parents’ stress levels have risen dramatically. Change of dynamics within the home, arguments amongst adults, conflicts can make a child feel very insecure. Children will ‘feed’ from these levels and their behaviours will change accordingly. News bulletins, all ‘doom and gloom’. This could potentially be a very frightening time for children, especially if they are unable to understand what is going on. Their behaviours could change, their anxiety levels rising significantly, and their thought processes will possibly be racing and mostly negative.
Negative thoughts in children can manifest, causing anxieties and stresses. A child may become clingy, overwhelmed by the situation. These anxieties may be displayed as tantrums, outbursts of emotions, avoidance, even headaches and upset stomachs. Children are unable to recognise their fears as irrational and will often become ‘disobedient’ and argumentative. Their sleep patterns may become disruptive, bad dreams, wetting the bed, change of appetite, easily irritable, crying, worrying.
So what can you do, as a parent to help your child? Here are some tips to help you and your child
Depending on their age and development, you can adapt these to suit your child:
- It’s important to talk to your children about what’s happening. Be open and explain the situation as well as you can. Talk to them about their feelings, anxieties, what can you do to make them feel better, help them find solutions, offer alternative things to do to take their minds away from whatever is causing them to feel anxious. Reassure them all will be ok, and you understand what they are going through. Be mindful what you discuss/talk about within earshot of children. Children will often build a completely different perspective to yours. If your child is old enough to understand, explain how worries and anxieties can affect them physically as well as emotionally.
- Teach your child to recognise when they are feeling anxious, that way you can help them to help themselves
- Attempt to keep their routines as near to normal as you possibly can.
- Try not to punish or chastise your child for having outbursts. These are normal behaviours when a child cannot control their feelings and emotions.
- Books and stories can help them gain a greater understanding. Encourage your child to write a story about the pandemic. For example, using their favourite superheroes or characters to help beat the virus can have positive outcomes. This is a good way for a child to understand the situation better and in their own words also. They could also read it out when completed.
- Create an 'affirmations jar' – every day, encourage your child to write three positive things that they have experienced that day, even if they are small things, they are still positive. Place each one into the jar and at the end of the week, ask your child to read them out loud, either to their family, you or on their own. Ensure each ‘affirmation’ is written in the present tense, so when read out, it still applies ie. “I feel happy today” or “Mummy pulls very funny faces”.
- When your child is feeling anxious, ask them to count how many squares, circles or triangles they can find in the room. This can be done anywhere. You can use colours or different shapes.
- Spell a long word – slowly, each letter with each breath they take.
- Count backwards from 30 or 20.
- Sing their favourite song and dance. This will not only distract them from their thoughts, it will also lift their ‘happy hormone’ levels.
- Most importantly, is to support your child through this. Put yourself in their shoes to gain a greater understanding of how they must be feeling.
If you are concerned about your child's well-being you can seek help from a professional counsellor or hypnotherapist. Many offer free initial consultations and options to work online or by telephone.