How to help your child cope with Covid-19 stress

I recently attended a webinar on helping your child cope during Covid-19, which talked about ways that parents and caregivers can support children during this unique and difficult time. I covered many of the suggestions on my social media pages over the past few months, but I thought I would summarize what the research says in one post.

In a previous blog post, I mentioned how temperament (both ours and our children’s) can affect the way we respond to a crisis. But we can also support them by being consistently available to listen and reassure them that we are there to help keep them safe. Schedules and routines are important, even in the upcoming summer months. Plus, it’s important to set aside time to relax and have fun with family. Here are some ideas for younger children and teens.

The most important thing is that children know you are there to help them through this challenging time.

This pandemic is different from other disasters like a tornado or hurricane. Natural disasters typically occur in one place, so others can come in to help. Unfortunately, this pandemic is on a global scale, so the responsibility to help your children cope relies on you. Fortunately, the best way to do this is to just be with them and let them know that you will help them cope. Ultimately, children just want to be listened to and to know that they are safe.

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How to talk to your children about coping with Covid-19

The experts unanimously agree that it’s best to be as honest as you can. Obviously, however, it’s important to keep your information at a developmentally appropriate level.

  • For little ones, this means staying concise. They want to know that you are their “secure base”–the person who they can turn to when they are scared and the person who will keep them safe and help them cope.
  • School agers need plenty of ways to express the confusing and stressful emotions they feel. There are creative ways to do this, through art and play acting. And you can also check out resources like this one, from marriage and family therapist, Mallory Striesfeld. Creativity helps them cope with the stress of Covid-19.
  • Teens are generally up for more candid conversations involving facts and talks about the future. They may need more alone time to process, but they still appreciate a check in from time to time. Letting them know that you’re there to help them cope when they are ready is key.

Most children will be resilient (if you are there to help them cope)

What about long term effects of stress from Covid-19?

We don’t have long term data from this pandemic, obviously, but we do have data about the long term effects of chronic stress for children. Harvard, for example, has some excellent information about how to cope with different levels of stress. And you are their ultimate role models. Help them learn to recognize and talk about their emotions. Teach them mindfulness skills like these. And help them find quiet corners to process. Encourage teens and older children to reach out and help others right now. This gives them an opportunity to channel anxiety into something compassionate and constructive. And remember that some regression is normal for kids (e.g., sleep difficult, acting out), but if the behaviors are repetitive or persist/worsen, make sure you see a therapist to help.

Above all, remember that you are on role overload. You’re doing the best you can with all you have on your plate. Give yourself some slack, and find support from other moms. In fact, I’m accepting new members for my Mom Support Groups in June, so send me an email or call and chat. Space is limited to 5-8 people (for best group discussions).

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