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Parents: Helping Your Child Cope with Pandemic-Related Fear and Anxiety

Just as the current Covid-19 outbreak is impacting all adults in both very similar and very varying ways, the same is happening to children and teens. Young people are keen observers, feelers – like many adults, they can feel both the global weight and the personal impact this crisis is having. They may be empathetically feeling the anxiety and fear that everyone is feeling; they may be concerned about their parents’ jobs and financial security; they may feel lonely being isolated from their peer support group; they may be worried about their grandparents’ health; they may be anxious about their grades, schooling, and routine; they may be mourning the loss of prom, planned trips, graduation, etc. This is likely to be their first brush with this kind of fear. It is the responsibility of parents to help navigate them through these difficult times with hope, truth, and compassion.

Before we jump into some practical ways to help, I want to gently remind: Not all kids will readily tell you that they are struggling. It’s important to look for clues, such as sleep disturbances, withdrawing/isolating, difficulty concentrating, changes in eating, change in desire to do previously enjoyed activities, increased agitation, somatic symptoms like headache or stomach ache, difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next, etc.

How to help support your child during this time:

* Take frequent breaks from news, including social media. The onslaught of information is overwhelming and anxiety-provoking, plus taking breaks from these outlets helps transition the body, mind, and heart to the present moment and present truths – for example: right now we are home, safe, and together. Additionally, much of the information available is confusing for young people and difficult for them to understand. Better for them to process what is going on directly with you.

* Speaking of processing with you, do that 😊 Take time to talk openly and directly with your child or teen about the outbreak. Answer questions and share facts. Validate their emotions and praise them for voicing them. “I hear you that you’re feeling fearful. That makes sense – there are things about this time that feel scary and unsettling. When I feel scared it’s helpful to talk to someone and ask questions, just like you’re doing now – thank you for doing that. It’s a very strange and difficult time – how can we find ways of valuing what is most important to us right now? What helps you feel more peaceful when you’re scared?”

* Speak kindly to yourself about your own emotions. It will be much easier to validate your child’s emotions, if you are validating your own.

* Try to create any normalcy available to you. What do mornings “normally” look like for you and your family? Getting dressed, eating breakfast, watching some cartoons, watering the plants? Do that! What does bedtime routine “normally” look like for you and your family? Eating dinner, taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading books? Do that! Try to keep regular routine where you can and talk as a family about why the other times look different right now. “We are doing school online right now to protect those around us from this illness. What is something fun about doing school online? What’s the hardest part?”

* Be a role model when it comes to self-care. Demonstrate to your child what taking care of yourself looks like during uncertain times. Let them see you taking breaks, getting sleep, stepping outside, praying, journaling, reading, meditating, slowing down, eating regularly, and connecting with friends and family virtually. Invite your child to join in! Depending on age and development – there are so many ways for your child to practice self-care with you.

For example, here’s a mediation you can do with your child. Read this script as you meditate together:

  1. Come into a comfortable position, laying on your back.

  2. Take a couple deep inhales and exhales to bring your mind to the present moment.

  3. Take a slow, deep inhale. Fill your belly fully with air as if you were blowing up a balloon. Let your belly expand as much as you can. What color is your balloon? Can you picture it?

  4. Slowly let the air out of the balloon through your nose and let all the air release from you belly.

  5. Notice the relaxation you feel on the exhale and not the hissing noise as you let the air out of the balloon.

  6. Continue several times. Fill the balloon fully and let it out.

  7. When your body feels ready, stop. How do you feel?

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