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Managing Children’s Fear and Anxiety in the Age of COVID-19

Natural disasters, wars, and pandemics can overwhelm even the most stable adults. So it’s easy to understand that children, who haven’t yet developed coping skills, may respond to the current COVID-19 outbreak with fear and anxiety. To help manage your children’s stress during this time, the team at Zalam Medical Center in Bridgeview, Illinois, offers the following advice.

Whether you try to shield your children from bad news or do nothing at all, chances are that they will hear about what’s going on from other kids, from social media, from the news you’ve got running constantly on TV, or from overhearing your conversations about it. 

In times of crisis, the information from these multiple sources often sensationalizes the news and even conflicts, which triggers uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and depression in children (and many adults).

Knowing exactly what to say to the children in your life can be confusing. You want to ease their fears, but what's the best way to do that? How much information do you give, and when do you give it? We’ve compiled a few tips for communicating the facts about COVID-19 with the children in your life, to reduce their stress and yours as we all support one another in our families and communities.

Signs that your child may be experiencing fear about COVID-19

Some children voice their concerns about their environments clearly: “I’m afraid I’m going to get coronavirus!” Others have more subtle ways of showing their fear. Here are some things to watch for:

If your child begins new behaviors like these, it may be linked to anxiety about COVID-19. 

Ways to help kids manage COVID-19 fears

Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to address the topic of the COVID-19 outbreak with the children in your life. But the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychology offers some helpful tips for parents and other caregivers to consider when discussing the topic with young ones.

Be open, honest, and available

Kids have a way of seeing through lies, even those told “for their own good.” They’re resilient and capable of handling the truth. But if you lie, they won’t trust you, which causes another layer of fear and anxiety.

You know your children best. Speak to them in a tone of voice that is calm and reassuring. Use words they can understand and let them know they can ask you any questions and come to you with any concerns. 

Help them gain a healthy respect for the safety measures being taken to protect everyone. This is a positive step everyone is taking together, and this gives them a small sense of personal control in an otherwise out-of-control situation. Children like to know they can help and are part of the solution. Contact us by phone (708) 599-8000 or online with any of your questions or concerns.

Monitor their news consumption

It’s not necessary to block your children from all coronavirus news. In fact, doing so may make them more fearful. But do limit the amount of time they spend hearing and seeing the news about this crisis. Too much can be overwhelming. And when they do watch, watch with them. 

Help them be cautious optimists

Hope buoys the human spirit and can go a long way in helping your children, your family, and your community get through this crisis. While you shouldn’t make promises you can’t keep, you can assure your children that they’re safe in your care and that you and all the members in your family are doing the best they can to stay healthy. 

This outbreak will eventually pass. Teach your children now how to face a crisis like this with caution, but also to be optimistic about the future.

Be patient

It may take your children a while to fully grasp the COVID-19 outbreak and what it means to them. Expect them to ask you the same question several times. This is how they learn and retain information. It’s new and it’s scary, so they need constant reassurance. 

Make sure you check your own anxiety level before you talk with your children, as your own concerns may creep through in your voice. Patience is key here. Be consistent with your answers, welcome all questions — even if you just answered that an hour ago. 

Be a good role model

Even if you say all the “right” things in your conversations with children, your actions speak louder than your words. If you’re yelling at some political pundit on TV about how they’re going to kill everyone with this policy or that, your children take that much more seriously than when you’re telling them everything is going to be OK. 

It’s a good idea to follow these same principles when it comes to your own response to the crisis: Seek accurate information from trusted sources, limit your exposure to the media, be honest, be hopeful. 

By using age-appropriate language and leading by example, you can help your child weather the worst of the COVID-19 outbreak. For all of your pediatric healthcare needs, call Zalam Medical Center at (708) 599-8000 or request an appointment online.

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