Coping with COVID-19 Anxiety When Everyone’s at Home
3 MINUTE READ
It’s normal for kids to feel anxious during these challenging times. Here’s how you can help them stay emotionally and physically healthy during the crisis.
By Viwek Bisen, MD, Senior Medical Director
Parents are working from home. And so are kids, taking classes online, sometimes right alongside their older siblings, who have been sent home after college campuses were shuttered.
Everyone is wondering: Are we safe? Are our friends and loved ones okay? What will happen next? Will this ever end?
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, families here in New Jersey – as elsewhere – are dealing with a new normal. Governor Phil Murphy has implemented aggressive social distancing measures to slow further spread of COVID-19, and schools at every level are closed for the foreseeable future, as are many types of “non-essential” businesses.
With the state hunkering down to address the crisis, the emotional toll on all family members can be quite significant. From fear and anxiety, to frayed nerves and boredom, day-to-day life has become even more of a challenge.
Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and especially now, it’s important to let children know that it’s okay to feel upset. Even so, there are proven ways to help them deal with and decrease their anxiety levels. Here are some tips and guidelines to help calm kids’ nerves and strengthen their health.
- Be sensitive to age differences. We all respond to stress differently. This holds true for kids of different ages. Talk with your children using language they will understand. For example, a 6-year-old may not even know what a virus is. If you see kids acting differently than normal, gently ask probing questions, and calmly and confidently answer them in an age-appropriate manner. Acknowledging and validating their feelings will reassure them and help ease their fears.
- Set a good example. If you don’t panic, your children are less likely to panic. First, process any anxiety you may have so you’re prepared to help kids deal with theirs. Then, if your children have questions, let them guide the conversation so they don’t feel overwhelmed and provide them with facts. There is no need to raise issues that might be frightening unless they ask. It is okay to say: “I don’t know.” Providing children with activities like drawing or journaling can help occupy their minds so they’re not dwelling on negative thoughts. Being a role model also means strictly adhering to guidelines for healthy living. That means you and your children must:
- Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds. You can make this fun by telling younger kids to sing their favorite song while scrubbing. Singing the Happy Birthday song twice is usually a good measure.
- Avoid touching your face. Tell your kids to act like a superhero by keeping their hands on their hips or at their sides as much as possible.
- Use tissues. Keep plenty handy and use them to cover your mouth if sneezing or coughing. Doing so will help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.
- Conduct health checks. Check each child for symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath. If any symptoms are present, keep them away from public spaces and contact your doctor immediately. Ask if they offer telemedicine – a virtual visit should be your first option when seeking care.
- Stay in touch. If your kids are concerned about relatives or friends, call or video chat with them often. That will ease their worries and also reduce loneliness.
- Keep a routine. Children appreciate structure, so make sure your days are as normal as possible. Make sure everyone eats well, sleeps well and regularly exercises. Wake up and go to bed at the same time as usual. Also, make time to get outside – as long as you keep safe social distancing. Staying indoors all day can be stressful, too.
- Limit access to COVID-19 coverage. You need to stay informed, but that doesn’t mean the family needs to gather around the TV to watch wall-to-wall COVID-19 news. Young kids, in particular, may not understand the messages coming from the TV. Ensure your children maintain their regular sources of entertainment and fun.
- Give older kids space. High school kids who are used to their growing independence and college kids – many who have abruptly returned home – can alter the family dynamic. They likely are missing friends and life as they know it. Give these young adults time to readjust to life at home and have honest discussions about rules, boundaries, and most importantly, their feelings.
- Look for the positive. There’s no denying these are tough times. But if you can view this period as an opportunity, then you’re also helping your kids see this experience in the same way. Help them explore new ways of learning, new books to read and new games to play, so when this time is over they will be stronger for it.
Indeed, emphasize to all family members that this way of life is temporary and we all need to take it one day at a time to get through it together.
For up-to-the-minute information in New Jersey, call the NJ COVID-19 & Poison Center Public Hotline at 1-800-962-1253 or 1-800-222-1222. Trained professionals can answer your call, 24/7. Or visit nj.gov/health.