How to calm your children’s anxiety about coronavirus – an update for parents

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If your children are frightened by their new life under Covid-19, this expert guide will help

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While the spread of Covid-19 might have you feeling stressed or uneasy, your children may be experiencing even deeper levels of fear and confusion. Some might show it. Others will keep it to themselves.

Younger children especially are less able to express or understand their fears and might be feeling concerned about this ‘new illness’ everyone is talking about.

Gauge their level of fear – don’t assume it

However, before talking about it with your child, licensed Kry/Livi psychologist, Martin Forster PhD, says, ‘It’s important to assess whether your child is actually worried about coronavirus or not, so you don’t impose worries that aren’t there.’

He advises asking questions about what your child has heard and whether they have talked about it with anyone else.

Whether it’s from reports on the news or from friends, children pick up snippets of stories and don’t always understand how to process new information. Their lack of understanding can heighten anxiety because – both for children and adults – stress originates from uncertainty.

Making sure your children feel informed is one of the first ways you can help lessen their anxiety. If they already have some knowledge of the virus, gauge their level of understanding and find out what specifically, they’re confused about.

Keep it simple

According to the UK Mental Health Foundation, some of the ways to help children stay mentally well include ensuring they feel understood, valued and safe.

Reassuring your child that they are unlikely to become seriously ill with coronavirus is important. Forster advises answering questions honestly, simply and as concisely as possible but putting certain facts into context.

If they hear about people dying, explain that it’s very uncommon. If they worry about their grandparents, explain that the lockdown rules are to protect them and keep them safe.

Watch how you’re talking about the virus with other adults

As parents, we need to be careful about how we act and what we talk about with other adults that children might overhear, says Forster.

‘You need to avoid displaying hopelessness or loss of control as children fear seeing their parents losing it. They need to see hope,’ he says. ‘Letting them know that you’re there and will look after them will also help’.

Make it practical

Empower kids by giving them practical tips on how they can look after themselves. Talk to them about the importance of hygiene and keeping their hands clean.
There are lots of videos online about how to wash hands properly and the advice is that you should take as long to wash your hands as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice.

Letting them see you take precautions and follow the health guidelines can help to reassure them that you’re being proactive when it comes to keeping everybody safe and well. And the singing is a bit of fun, too.

How to explain social distancing

Children, by nature, are generally lively, active and less aware of personal physical boundaries so social distancing can be a challenge, especially for very young children.

Don’t make social distancing seem scary or strange. The term won’t mean anything to young children so use phrases they can relate to. Talk about how they can help everybody stay well by not getting too close to people.

Older children are more likely to see stories online and with so much more of our life becoming virtual, it’s going to be hard to avoid reading rumours on the Internet.

Encourage older children to be savvy about what they view online. Just as we as adults need to be mindful of how much content we consume and the sources of our information, we need to educate our children to be the same.

Come up with a list of reputable sites and platforms together so they feel involved. Two links that we recommend are below;

Get information about coronavirus on NHS.UK

Get advice about staying at home

Have an open conversation about why certain things we see, especially on social media, might be inaccurate.

Keeping children mentally well during isolation

Whilst opportunities to get outside are limited, get young children engaged in creative play and using their imaginations.

Forster suggests that some of the main worries for children during this time will be about schools being closed and not seeing friends or delays getting their grades.

Explaining how ‘society is making a massive effort to compensate,’ will give them hope and a sense that they’re not alone in this situation.

Establishing routines so that older children can continue with online education and keep up with their studies helps maintain a sense of normality.

Forster also believes this is a time for families to create new opportunities and do activities you might not usually do as a family, even just going for a walk together.

Use the time to come together and bond as a family. This will also help your children feel soothed and safe.

‘We can all stay healthy by not getting too close to people’‘Don’t go near others, they could be sick’
‘Lockdown rules keep us safe’‘These lockdown rules are ridiculous’
‘I'm here and will take care of you'‘I feel so hopeless’

What should I do next?

  • Speak honestly and openly with your children and answer any questions they might have – but be concise and simple, no gorey details.
  • Offer practical and useful ways they can help protect themselves and others.
  • Come together as a family to work on a project that can help the wider community.

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