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5 Strategies to Mitigate COVID-19 related Anxiety and Trauma for Children

We are all feeling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting quarantine directives. As caregivers, we serve a critical role in helping our children reduce the long-term effects of sheltering-in-place and to teach important skills they will utilize for the rest of their lives.

Whether we realize it or not, kids are watching our every move, even if we are not always aware of it. What they see us do and how they see us respond are the strategies and habits they are developing for themselves in their own lives, which they will carry with them long past this chaotic time. We, as caregivers, can reduce the effects of these trying times for our kiddos, and teach them critical life-skills along the way.

Allow space for processing difficult emotions. 

Acknowledging that this is a difficult and, at times, frustrating and even overwhelming time that we are in and showing compassion to ourselves and our kids, goes a long way towards helping us to cope with these feelings. When life gets overwhelming taking a step-back to tend to our needs and take care of our own emotional well-being is really important. Taking the time to do so allows us to be more present and better able to address the day to day demands with more ease and clarity.

It is also important, and a great opportunity, to teach these concepts to our youngsters and to help them find their own equivalents for these practices, be it yoga meditation, or breathing practice – with little ones you can teach them to practice “blowing out candles” or “blowing bubbles”. Kids will love it!

Disruption in routines can cause anxiety for kids.

Children of all ages like and need structure. Obviously, life is different these days, but putting some structure in place will be greatly beneficial in creating harmony for their physical, emotional and mental well-being. Blocking out the day to incorporating educational activities, mealtimes, playtime, creative time, and spending time together as a family and virtually with friends, will serve to create balance and will be beneficial in providing adults with opportunities to get work done while the kids are occupied. Incorporating choice and integrating their interests where possible, will greatly help with getting their cooperation. However, when things don’t go according to plan, let it go! Instead of beating yourself up, give yourself a break and do something fun engaging the children. It’s a great opportunity to teach and model for your kids how to be flexible, a necessary skill that they will carry with them throughout their life.

Foster a calm environment.

Kids are very perceptive and easily pick up on negative or anxious energy of those around them. Decluttering and creating a welcoming environment, maybe with artwork your youngsters and you create, or just finding things that bring you joy around the house and moving those items into your common areas where you tend to spend most of your time, will help to keep your spirits up. The more you can foster an enjoyable atmosphere and stay in a positive mindset, the more you are modeling and teaching these qualities to your kiddos.

Limiting social media and news intake around COVID-19 is important to help stay grounded as many news sources sensationalize and embellish the situation. Focus on just one or two accurate sources. Speak to your kids about what is going on but stick to the facts and put it into accurate perspective for them. Explain that we are staying home to prevent the virus from spreading and to keep everybody safe. There are several great online resources that help parents talk to their children by age group about COVID-19.

Stress and anxiety in children might look like challenging behavior.

When kids are stressed, overwhelmed, worried or anxious, it might come out as power struggles, arguments, not listening, being emotional or cranky, and other forms of challenging behaviors. Your children are really just communicating that they are scared, their emotions are dis-regulated and that they need your help.

Reflective listening is a great technique to use. When your child is expressing anger, anxiety, or is overwhelmed, calmly notice and tell them what you see, naming the state (ex. “I see that you are upset.”). Stay very present with the child, giving them your full attention (body facing the child and giving direct eye contact). Even if the child is yelling or throwing things, just reflect back to them what you are seeing in a calm manner without judging or shaming their behavior or feelings. This will encourage them to express and process their feelings and emotions. Try to refrain from solving the issue for them.

As parents, we are often tempted – and feel it is our responsibility – to solve our kid’s challenges and make everything alright for them. But in fact, the greater gift, is to teach them how to process their emotions, even the tough ones, and to help work through those strenuous moments. This supports them along their journey to becoming self-sufficient. You will be surprised at how effective this is and how resilient, creative, and capable kids are at finding their own way through their problems!

Build a gratitude practice.

Building a gratitude practice is an excellent way to keep positive and has well-documented resiliency-building results. It’s a nice practice to start with your kids around the dinner table, at bedtime or at another time that your family tends to all be together. Trying to take turns to name at least one thing each day that each of you is grateful for, is a wonderful addition to any routine and has been proven to greatly improve mood and happiness. It is also an opportunity to reflect on others who aren’t as fortunate, building empathy and compassion, perhaps identifying opportunities or ways to do something nice or kind for someone else.

What are some of your favorite strategies that help you stay positive and pass the time?

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