It is not uncommon for us all to experience anxiety at times of uncertainty and in response to distressing information presented in the media.
Many children have been hearing about COVID-19 for weeks at school, from friends, on the news, and at home, and while they might not know how to appropriately express their feelings about the situation, they might be holding on to some worries. Here are some tips to support children and young people:
- Be available to talk and reassure:
Children can have big questions, and it’s okay to answer them. Take cues from them and offer clear but concise answers in developmentally appropriate language. Keep the focus on what you are doing to prepare and prevention strategies that are within your control like proper handwashing and avoiding large crowds. Reassure when needed but avoid offering too frequently as this can prevent children from developing their own positive self talk.
- Limit news exposure:
Even when it seems like they’re not listening, children pick up on what they hear on TV and radio. Hearing unfamiliar words like pandemic and outbreak can be fear-inducing. Opt for watching or listening to news reports when your child is in bed or choose to read news articles if possible. This may also include limiting our conversations about what we are hearing on the news.
- Stick to routines and boundaries:
Children thrive with routines and boundaries, and predictability can be very comforting in anxious times. When some things feel out of control, routines can give them a sense of security. Write your daily routine on the whiteboard or make a paper schedule together and make sure that you include fun activities in your daily routine!
- Acknowledge the worries:
It’s completely okay to acknowledge childrens’ worries rather than ignoring them. Acknowledging worries won’t solidify them but it will help your child understand that worry is a protective feeling that alerts us to potential danger. The smoke alarm analogy can be helpful when explaining anxiety. Smoke alarms are really helpful for alerting us to danger when there’s a fire and we need to get out of the building. But sometimes smoke alarms go off even when there isn’t a big danger, like when we burn toast. Anxiety does the same thing, telling us that there is a big danger, even if the situation is not that big.
- Be mindful of your own worries:
It is reasonable for everyone to have some level of worry but children do pick up on our feelings and notice our anxieties, and they will take cues from us. We need to manage our own anxiety, including how we might express this in conversations with our child or others.
- Consider opportunities for exercise:
Make time to enjoy being active together, for example, throwing a ball in the backyard, dance to your favourite song or simply enjoy a stroll in the park.
Greg Whitby is the executive director of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Parramatta. Follow him on Twitter @gregwhitbyLearn more about Greg