managing your child's anxiety

From social distancing to unusual school setups our kids have so much to deal with during the pandemic. Whether it’s worry about mask-wearing or just the stress of so much screen time, parents need concrete solutions to not only get their kids (and themselves) through the day but also to thrive. But how can we manage our child’s anxiety when we’re also worried and stressed?

Jennifer Bronsnick, an integrative therapist in Morristown wrote a blog on this topic in which she advises parents – don’t tell kids not to be scared.

“Honor their fears and share how your ‘worry part’ pops up too but that you are choosing to stay in the moment and take actions to stay well, while you live your life.”  Bronsnick says that you definitely should share your confidence in their ability to handle their fear or the experience if someone does get sick. “Remind them of all the helpers, scientists and doctors who are working around the clock to help others. The message you want to convey is one of realism, combined with hope and optimism.”

Read on for specific advice on help your child cope with COVID anxiety no matter his or her age.

Toddler: “Toddlers need consistency to feel safe and secure,” says Christopher Lynch, PhD, the program coordinator for the Pediatric Behavioral Medicine department of Goryeb Children’s Hospital and Atlantic Health System-Children’s Health. Lynch specializes in helping young people deal with anxiety issues and has even written two books on the subject: Totally Chill: My Complete Guide to Staying Cool and Anxiety Management for Kids on the Autism Spectrum: Your Guide to Preventing Meltdowns and Unlocking Potential.

“Be sure to maintain routines and keep consistent guidelines for behavior. Watch and manage your own stress and anxiety levels as toddlers will quickly pick up on this.” Dr. Lynch also recommends avoiding exposing children to media coverage of the pandemic at this age.

Stacy Haynes, EdD, LPC, ACS a licensed professional counselor with Little Hands Family Services in Turnersville, says parents can also read stories to their children at this age about being scared and overcoming obstacles.

Preschooler: “Preschoolers may have questions related to the pandemic such as ‘Why do we need to wear masks?’ and ‘Why can’t we hug our grandparents?’” says Lynch. “It is important to answer questions honestly but choose words that your preschooler can understand and process. Focus on the fact that we are doing what we need to do to stay safe.”

Haynes suggests using deep breathing exercises to help kids reduce anxiety. “Yoga Pretzels is a great resource for children to learn relaxation strategies,” she says.

Early Elementary: “Ease anxiety by keeping your early elementary child busy in activities that stimulate the mind,” says Dr. Lynch. “You can begin to go into more details about the pandemic if your child has questions at this age. However, be sure to check with your child to make sure that she understood you accurately.”

“Use coloring pages or coloring resources to help express feelings of anxiety,” suggests Haynes. “Coloring pages can help with reducing stress.”

Later Elementary: “Check in with your later elementary child to see what they know about the pandemic and to assess any fears they may have,” says Lynch. “Help your child to understand that not all sources of information are reliable and that they should come to you if they hear something that is concerning.”

“Watching movies about feelings like Disney’s Inside Out can help children understand that all feelings have a place and help them to understand how to express them in healthy ways,” says Haynes.

Middle School: “This is a time when kids may begin to actively hide their fears and anxieties as they seek greater independence,” says Lynch. “Look for times when they may be more open to talking with you. Allow your middle schooler to express himself before jumping in with answers.”

Haynes says that middle school is a time of big transition for kids. “Children at this age can benefit from support groups to talk about anxiety,” she says.

High School: “The pandemic has affected high schoolers in many ways,” says Lynch. “Academics, sports, interactions with friends, participation in extracurricular activities and preparing for college have all been impacted by the pandemic. Your high schooler may be overwhelmed by all that is going on. Watch for signs of stress such as irritability, change in sleep or eating habits and loss of motivation. Make sure your high schooler understands that it is ok to seek support for emotional stress and that help is available.”

“Talking with teens about their feelings is a good way to help them cope,” says Haynes. “Support any feelings they have about not going out or being in public.  Also support them by allowing them to have space or be to themselves with their friends if this is helpful for them.”

By following these suggestions, you can help your child and feel safe and secure expressing any worries and find his or her footing as we navigate the new normal.