Helping children cope with stress
How families can help their children cope with stress during the COVID-19 outbreak
Living with family members in a confined space for long periods of time and being regularly bombarded by information about the epidemic can lead to boredom, anxiety, worry and panic. It may also lead to feelings of depression and fear and induce physical changes like chest congestion and insomnia. These are all normal reactions to stressful circumstances.
Children may respond to stress in different ways such as being more clingy, anxious, withdrawing, angry or agitated, having difficulties sleeping, bedwetting, having pain in the stomach or head or afraid to be left alone.
For families with children, spending more time together increases the opportunities for parents to communicate with their child. To get through the COVID-19 outbreak, family members must remain the essential source of support by helping all family members to feel safe, positive and maintain a healthy mind. It is our responsibility to protect children’s rights, ensure their safety and provide the information and facts needed to diminish fears and anxieties. Having information and facts about COVID-19 will help diminish children’s fears and anxieties around the disease and support their ability to cope with any secondary impacts in their lives.
Establish daily communal routines to promote bonding between family members.
Children need adults’ love and attention during difficult times. Give them extra time and attention.
Remember to listen to your children, speak kindly and reassure them. Listen to their concerns and take the time to comfort them and give them affection, reassure them that they are safe and praise them frequently. Respond to their reactions in a supportive way and explain to them that their reactions are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.
Play with your child.
If possible, make opportunities for children to play and relax. Keep regular routines and schedules as much as possible, especially before they go to sleep, or help create new ones in a new environment.
Parent-child games can be an effective way to strengthen the parent-child bond, relieve stress, and build resilience in children. Arrange one or more family activities each day that require all family members to participate. For example, parents can join their children in physical exercise, storytelling, and quizzes to help children relieve their stress and anxiety.
Playing can also improve a child’s ability to regulate emotions. Parents can help their children to recognize their feelings by helping children express themselves through painting, cosplay, arts and crafts.
Encourage your children to ask questions and express their feelings with you.
Provide facts about what has happened in an age-appropriate manner, explain what is going on and give them clear examples on what they can do to help protect themselves and others from infection. Share information about what could happen in a reassuring way:
If your child feels unwell:
“You have to stay at home/at the hospital because it is safer for you and your friends. I know it is hard (maybe scary or even boring) at times, but we need to follow the rules to keep ourselves and others safe. Things will go back to normal soon.”
It’s important to know that we’re not leaving children in a state of distress. As your conversation wraps up, try to gauge their level of anxiety by watching their body language, considering whether they’re using their usual tone of voice and watching their breathing.
Remind your children that they can have other difficult conversations with you at any time. Remind them that you care, you’re listening and that you’re available whenever they’re feeling worried.
Here are some tools to help you spend time with children during social distancing