With everything going on in the world, it’s hard for adults not to feel overwhelmed and though they display feelings differently, children feel stressed too. After all, they hear the news and pick up signals from their family and other adults. But how do you handle your children’s anxiety if you are feeling the same way?
1. Stick to a routine
As easy as it might be to throw that out the window, routines create structure and certainty which everyone can use right now. Keep as much of your child’s old routine in place as possible, or start a new one, but either way, try to maintain a schedule. It’s especially important that meals, bedtime, schoolwork, and playtime occur during the same hours each day. Naturally, this is not as important on weekends but setting a cadence for daily activities during the work week/school week helps to establish order and structure. And this can have a calming effect by creating a sense of normalcy in these very abnormal times.
2. Encourage positive thinking
We acknowledge that this is easier said than done, but where there is a will, there IS a way. Try employing some exercises that might help both you and your offspring get your minds off of the negative. Actively look for a positive story to share with each other every day. Read it out loud together and then ask your child to spend a few more minutes writing down what they are thankful for each day. It could be as simple as being grateful for the weather being sunny or seeing a friend on webcam. However, the act of writing it down and speaking about it may help to alleviate melancholy and negative thinking.
3. Teach coping mechanisms
If children start to feel overwhelmed, encourage them to take a deep breath or sit down and count backwards from 100. Teach them that they always have control of how they are feeling even if they do not have control of broader situations. Remind them that thoughts become words, word become actions, and they can learn to adapt to change and redirect that negative energy into productivity. Encourage them to find new interests and have fun. There are plenty of great online activities such as touring a virtual museum or playing an online learning game that will help to take their minds off of the situation. Make sure they know it’s normal to feel anxious sometimes but allowing it to consume your life is not normal. Don’t marginalize their concerns or lie about the seriousness of issues the world is facing because that isn’t healthy either. As Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a PhD and clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute says, “Kids can come to rely on the reassurance and want to hear it more and more often — and when a parent isn’t able to give them complete reassurance their anxiety can worsen.”
4. Get some fresh air
Physical activity is really important at any time but especially when one feels stressed. Take a break each day and get out of the house. Focus on the beauty of nature by asking kids to look for a specific kind of bird or find the names of certain flowers or trees. If you live in a city, play a game out of spotting a certain make or color of a car. Regardless of what you do, the process of going outside and breathing some fresh air (even with a mask on) can invite positive feelings and lead to a sense of renewal and rejuvenation.
5. Check in
Don’t overlook signs of anxiousness such as nail biting, fidgeting or irritability. Even if you don’t see specific behavioral changes, check in each day with children about how their day is going and how they are feeling. Taking the time to sit down, listen, and observe children’s mental and emotional health can help to deepen the parent-child bond and catch problems early so they can be addressed collectively and hopefully mitigated.
6. Stay connected
Although it's important to social distance physically, it doesn’t mean you can’t pick up the phone or get on video chats and speak with family and friends. You can also start writing letters with children. That helps them keep in touch with people they love while also encouraging them to express themselves in a way that is conducive to educational as well as spiritual growth. They can write about what they are learning in school, mention books they are reading or activities they have participated in etc. Or maybe they would rather write a story and send that to a loved one. Again, the idea is to help them connect with others and focus on things that they can control.
In summary, it’s not unusual for our kids to pick up vibes from us both negative and positive. “Children of any age can experience anxiety," explains Roshini Kumar, LPC, clinical therapist at Children's Health.” So, think of these tips as ways to help the whole family cope with the uncertainty that we face right now. And don’t miss BCT Partners previous blog as we provided a comprehensive list of learning resources and activities that your children can partake in virtually to stay busy, healthy, and happy.
You can also download this free online-exclusive chapter from a new book, Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings, 4th edition
Learn other healthy ways to cope with stress.