It’s safe to say that COVID-19 has changed day to day lives for everyone – adults and children – across the United States and around the world. The way we live is just different now than it was before the pandemic.
Children’s lives were disrupted with the closing of schools in the spring – for many, never returning after spring break. Social distancing eliminated or severely reduced their in-person interactions with friends and family. They had to adjust to new routines and a new normal at home, distance learning, and finding things to do to entertain themselves. Many adults either lost jobs or were working from home, having to make space and time to adjust to all the drastic changes all at once.
As adults face high levels of uncertainty, they also experience high levels of anxiety, depression, and stress, among lots of other emotions. Children depend on adults for their safety and security, and many adults are not themselves feeling safe or secure.
Children do not always show stress in the ways adults do, or the way adults might expect them to. Much of this has to do with the fact that kids can’t always find the words to say what they are feeling. Because of this, many times their feelings show up in other ways, like changes in behavior.
Here are 5 ways that children express their anxiety about the coronavirus:
While schools, businesses, friends, family gatherings, trips, etc. are shut down or canceled, many kids are spending more of their time in front of screens. The trick to knowing if they are using screens as a way to escape and check-out emotionally, or if it’s a healthier use of technology or way to entertain themselves, is tuning in to signs that they are having trouble coping.
Parents can explore their child’s use of technology by noticing what their child is doing.
Are they interacting with friends? Is this their social/friend time?
Are they having fun?
Are they mindlessly scrolling through Netflix?
Another idea for parents is to watch a movie or show with their child, or even play video games together. While you’re playing or watching, ask questions, and listen for answers.
Don’t drill your kids about what they are doing and why. Instead, get curious, and see how they respond. Many times children will share a lot of information and this time can not only be quality time spent together but an opportunity to understand how your child is feeling.
Much like adults, children can start to be irritable and cranky when they are stressed or anxious. They may not always express that during schoolwork or learning time, but at other times during the day.
Some moodiness is typical of any child. However, If parents are noticing their child having more mood swings more often, it could be a sign of stress. Kids don’t usually have the social skills necessary to fully express themselves, what they are feeling, and how it is affecting them. In fact, it’s difficult for adults to do this in times of high stress or anxiety as well. Ever snap at someone and didn’t mean it?
Children also pick up on and absorb their parents’ stress and anxiety. Heightened stress in the home often causes them to feel heightened stress as well.
Since outbursts of anger, irritability, or sass are often them trying to figure out their emotions and not to do with them, parents can help by talking with their child, asking questions that are specific about what they are feeling, and validate those feelings. Parents are a great resource for helping kids figure out what they are feeling and letting them know they are safe.
A child attached to their parent’s hip is often a sign they are struggling with some big emotions and aren’t sure how to cope. Often children cling when they feel anxious, scared, frustrated, sad, or stressed.
This is especially true when a child who is typically more self-sufficient begins to want to be around their parent constantly or doesn’t want to share their time with siblings.
When children’s emotions are acknowledged and validated, they are better able to cope with them. Parents can connect with their children and teach them some of the healthy ways they like to cope when they are feeling stressed. Taking a walk together, running and playing (physical activity), yoga and meditation are all great and effecting coping strategies that kids can learn too!
A Million Questions
Often when kids are anxious, they want to be reassured – similar to the way adults look for information in the news and social media. Kids who ask a lot of questions about the pandemic, school, what things will be, are probably responding to the uncertainty and anxiety they are feeling.
When children ask questions it’s often a way that they express what they are worried about. It’s a great time to reassure them. Be careful not to over-share, but there may be some basic information that would help them to know. Parents can help their child name their feelings and teach some healthy ways to cope with them.
Change in Eating and/or Sleeping
Having trouble sleeping or staying asleep, and sleeping much more than usual can be a sign that a child is feeling anxious.
Also eating more or less than normal for that child sometimes points to anxiety.
The key to understanding any of these signs of anxiety is for parents to tune in to changes in behavior for their child, and wonder if these changes are because the child is stressed or anxious.
Approaching them from a place of understanding and coming together to help them make a huge difference in children learning the skills they need to cope with big and scary emotions.
It’s wise for parents to seek the help of a therapist who can help if these changes are noticeable and overwhelming for the parent.
Our therapists are highly skilled in working with children, adolescents, and families. We offer a diverse array of services to meet the needs of you and your family!
Let’s connect! Call us today to schedule an appointment.
940-222-8552 or email [email protected]