Tips on How to Reduce Pandemic Stress In Kids
As the pandemic continues, it's important for parents to know how to reduce pandemic stress in kids. Although social distancing is the best thing we can do right now to decrease the risk of spreading the virus in our communities, being cooped up in your house isn’t always easy, particularly for kids, young and older.
Many children are suffering confusion and stress, and they may respond to it in different ways. Younger children may not have the words to describe their feelings. Older children and teens may be extra irritable as they miss out on normal events they looked forward to and activities they enjoy with their friends.
It’s important to help children feel safe, keep healthy routines, manage their emotions, and behavior and build resilience. Parents need to be on the lookout for behavior changes that affect day-to-day functioning like eating, sleeping, and interactions with friends.
Learn more about the signs of stress in children, ways to support your child to cope with pandemic stress in kids, and how to take care of your own mental health.
Address children's fears
Spending quality time with kids and listening deeply to them is one way to help them tame anxiety. Children rely on their parents for safety, both physical and emotional.
Reassure your children that you are there for them and that your family will get through this together. Give them extra time and attention. Offer extra hugs and say “I love you" more often.
Answer questions about the pandemic simply and honestly. Provide facts about what has happened, explain what is going on, and give them clear information on how to reduce their risk of being infected by the disease in words that are understandable for their age.
Limit your time on social media and watching the news. Consider doing the same thing for your children. Their exposure to the news of COVID-19 can cause fear, worry, and stress.
Inform your child before leaving the house for work or essential errands. In a calm and reassuring voice, tell them where you are going, how long you will be gone, when you will return, and that you are taking steps to stay safe.
Create soothing spaces. Some parents have found it helpful to help their children create places they can go when they need to feel better. Kids have always liked being in their own little area where they can put their things and feel safe.
Have open and honest conversations. When children are clearly sad or upset, sit with them and give them time.
Admit when you don't know the answer to a question about the pandemic and offer to look it up together. This models the attitude you want them to develop as they grow older.
Build a hopeful vision of the future. Hope isn't about pretending that everything's OK—it's about recognizing that things can be very, very difficult and that in the midst of all of that, we can still find ways to grow as individuals and as a family and strengthen our connections with the people we care about.
Help your child stay socially connected
Keep in touch with loved ones. Children may also worry about a grandparent who is living alone or a relative or friend. Video chats can help ease their anxiety. Use whatever technology you have available (Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, etc.) to virtually meet up with those you love.
If your kids are missing their friends from school or best friends from down the block, work with parents to arrange virtual playdates. Support kids' friendships. Connections to friends are important for kids' psychological development.
Encourage children to connect whether it be physically distanced activities or online activities like video cuts, texting, phone calls, and social media. Physical distancing walks and bike riding can be an opportunity both for physical exercise and for emotional bonding.
Find ways to make physical activity a part of your child’s life
Make opportunities for the child to play and relax. Regular physical activity can improve your child’s physical and mental health. Plan activities to pass the time. Doing puzzles, taking classes online, or playing outside are all great ways to spend time during isolation.
Go outside when possible. If the weather is nice, get outside and play. Your whole family will benefit from busting out of your home and burning some energy.
With the usual routines thrown off, establish new daily schedules. Children should follow a general order, such as: wake-up routines, getting dressed, breakfast, and some active play in the morning, followed by quiet play and snack to transition into schoolwork.
It is more important than ever to maintain bedtime and other routines. All children, including teens, benefit from routines that are predictable yet flexible enough to meet individual needs.
Even with everyone home together 24/7, set aside some special time with each child. Ideas can include cooking or reading together, for example, or playing a favorite game. You choose the time, and let your child choose the activity. Just 10 or 20 minutes of your undivided attention, even if only once every few days, will mean a lot to your child.
Encourage hobbies. Kids can be encouraged to play their guitar more, learn a new hobby, spend more time talking with their friends. Set a positive example by leading an active lifestyle yourself and making physical activity a part of your family’s daily routine.
Keep healthy routines
Ensure your child stays active every day while taking everyday preventive actions.
Wash hands. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. If your child is under 6 years of age, supervise them when they use hand sanitizer.
Wear a mask. Make sure everyone in your household wears a mask when in public and around people who don’t live in your household.
Avoid close contact. Make sure your child and everyone else in your household keep at least 6 feet away from other people who don’t live with them.
Cover coughs and sneezes. When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, throw your tissue in the closest garbage can, and wash your hands.
Bedtimes can shift some for older children and teens, but it is a good idea to keep it in a reasonable range. Too little sleep makes it more challenging to learn and deal with emotions. Remember to turn off cell phones and other mobile devices an hour before bedtime.
Model how to manage feelings
Children and teens pick up the level of stress from their parents. They don't always understand what's going on, but they can feel the tension.
So, the more calm a parent can be, the more they're reassuring their children. Talk through how you are managing your own feelings.
Of course, staying calm clearly isn't always easy and often requires a conscious effort. Create a mini break for yourself to reset your own stress levels. It may mean going for a fast walk to reduce any tension that you have.
Treat yourself to something that will help you relax. Do 30 minutes of yoga, eat your favorite snack without having to share with your kids, or watch a new episode of a TV show.
Make sure any discipline tactics you’re using are fair and consistent
Sometimes children misbehave because they’re bored or don't know any better. Discipline is more effective when parents know how to set and enforce limits and when expected behaviors and punishments are based on their child’s age and level of development.
Notice good behavior and point it out, praising success and good tries. Use rewards & privileges to reinforce good behaviors that wouldn't normally be given during less stressful times.
Avoid physical punishment. Spanking, hitting, and other forms of physical or “corporal" punishment risk injury and aren't effective. It can increase aggression in children over time, fails to teach them to behave or practice self-control, and can even interfere with normal brain development.
Corporal punishment may take away a child's sense of safety and security at home, which are especially needed now.
Bring your child for their healthcare visits
Routine well-child visits and vaccine visits are essential, even during the pandemic. Call your child’s healthcare provider to ask about any upcoming appointments or to ask when your child’s vaccinations are due.
Some healthcare providers may choose to delay in-person visits, which will be based on the situation in your community and your child’s individual care plan. Your child’s healthcare provider will check your child’s growth and development at well-child visits.
Reach out to your pediatrician with any concerns you have about your child's behavioral or emotional well-being and managing your family's stress.
Take care of yourself
When schedules and routines are turned upside down, everyone is off their game. You and your kids may feel cranky or frustrated, and there might be more crying than usual. Remind yourself that some days are going to be harder than others, and don’t dwell on the things you could have gotten done or should have done differently.
Instead, try to focus on the more positive moments throughout your day. Getting your partner’s feedback about whether you’re losing your cool often, raising your voice more than normal, or generally not acting like yourself is also helpful. Keeping open and honest communication is vital during this time.
Eat healthy, exercise and get enough sleep. Find ways to decompress and take breaks. If more than one parent is home, take turns watching the children if possible.
You may need a time out yourself. Reach out to friends, family, or mental health professionals when you need a little extra help. For more tips on dealing with these strange times, take a look at Covid19 survival guide.
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