A Practitioner’s Perspective, with Stephonia Llewellyn, LMHC, Child & Adolescent Therapist.
“As a child and adolescent therapist in Florida, where there have been higher rates of outbreak than many other states, I see the anxiety and depression amongst most of my children intensify.
Covid-19 has been/is a traumatic experience for the entire world. Children don’t always know how to best deal with their emotions. The worst part? It is also a traumatic experience for their parents. No one knows how to deal with it, what to say, or what is to come. I have realized that being candid and showing our kids that we are all experiencing the same emotions, is beneficial in reducing their anxiety. Knowing that their parents have some of the same “real” feelings as them, helps them to better adjust to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s important to remember that children are imitators of those around them. If we want our children to cope well, we need to utilize effective and appropriate coping skills around them. Having our children see us take a walk, utilize deep breathing, doing yoga, etc. is a perfect way to be a model.”
The current health pandemic brought on by the worldwide outbreak of the Covid-19 virus has caused stress for everyone. Whether someone is worried about their health or the health of loved ones, their financial situation, or a combination of all of these things, it’s hard to know what to do and how to feel at a time like this.
But what about children and their perspective on our new way of living? Is this easier or more difficult for kids than it is for adults, and as a parent, what can you do to help your child through this experience?
Essentially, the impact of COVID-19 on a child boils down to a few things:
- Your child’s age
- Whether or not your child is personally affected by the virus (they or a loved one catches it)
- Disruption of your child’s daily life
Parents should take all of these factors into account when determining how to help their child cope.
Age of the Child
Where your child is developmentally plays a major role in how he or she is affected by COVID-19. Babies and toddlers won’t know what is happening, but they might sense their parents’ extra stress. Younger school-aged children can grasp some aspects of the pandemic, but mainly focus on how it affects their world. For example, a younger child will question why school attendance had changed or why play dates with friends are no longer happening.
It can be difficult to determine how a younger child is feeling since they are not as capable of communicating their thoughts in ways that make sense to adults. A few indications your young child might be experiencing virus-related stress without telling you about it might include:
- Being fussier than usual, crying, or throwing temper tantrums
- Being clingier than usual
- More or new habits of hitting, biting or scratching
- Being quiet or withdrawn
- Changing eating toileting or toileting habits, or having trouble sleeping
Older kids and teens will be very aware of the circumstances but might struggle just as much, if not more so, than younger kids when dealing with things.
No matter their age, kids need more patience from their parents right now, which can be a challenge when parents also feel stressed. The truth is, adults and kids are experiencing many of the same emotions right now. Most adults just have better tools for coping and expressing their feelings.
Personal Ties to COVID-19
Regardless of whether or not a child knows someone who contracts the virus, he or she will be affected. But if a loved one falls ill, as you might expect, there is double the fear and concern.
If your child knows someone who contracts COVID-19 and your child is old enough to be aware of the situation, it’s important to communicate about the illness. In addition to managing any anxiety your child feels about the virus in general, you’ll also need to talk about how it feels when a loved one gets sick.
Nobody wants to consider worst-case scenarios, but it’s important to understand how to talk to your child about serious illness and death before it occurs. The better prepared you are the easier the experience will be for your child.
According to Joseph F McGuire, M.A., Ph.D., if a loved one gets sick, it’s important, “… to have an established plan to minimize the worries and keep focused on proactive solutions. You know your child and how they learn best — make sure that your explanations are clear and helpful.”
Effect on Daily Life
Finally, the extent to which your child’s daily life changes due to the virus will have an impact on how to best handle the situation.
Younger children might have limited disruptions and still be able to go about their business in the home without much changing. School-aged children, though, have experienced significant change.
This aspect of COVID-19 has an even greater impact if a child’s parent is an essential worker, especially in healthcare. Many families have been forced to “social distance” in their homes and children are unable to spend time with or touch their parents due to risk from exposure in the workplace. This is difficult for everyone and it’s important to reassure your child and explain what’s happening in an age-appropriate manner.
What Can You Do to Help Children Deal with COVID-19?
Try to Keep Things in Perspective
Kids are feeling anxious right now, just like adults. Many of them will display this anxiety by acting out or misbehaving. Parents need to have some perspective on the matter. If your child is a little more “difficult” than usual, be patient and give them some breathing room. As long as he or she isn’t doing anything potentially harmful, it’s probably okay to let some things slide.
It’s also important to help your child keep his or her fears about the virus in perspective. There’s no doubt it’s scary to be living this way, but kids should understand that the risk of contracting the virus and getting seriously ill is slim. This is also a good time to introduce information about how to protect themselves from the virus through handwashing and other proactive approaches. They’ll gain a feeling of control of the situation and feel better knowing there is something they can do to protect themselves.
Be Aware of Peer Interactions
Kids need to maintain peer interactions during this time when they are forced to stay at home. Modern technology makes it easier than ever for this to remain possible. But it’s also important for parents to know what their kids are exposed to when virtually socializing. Speaking to friends about the current situation is helpful, but it can also elevate anxiety levels and lead to kids being confused about factual information.
Knowing what your child is learning from others and correcting any inaccuracies is important. Says McGuire, “This might include asking children about specific concerns or what they know about the coronavirus, and providing practical solutions to help them minimize any risk.”
Take Control Where You Can
There isn’t a lot within our control right now, so it’s important to find small ways to feel some control. This is important for kids and adults. Having a daily routine allows us to have some control over the situation and it’s something a child can help with.
Even simple things like allowing your child to choose what’s for dinner one night a week or letting them decide what to wear each day can have a positive effect on anxiety. And again, make sure your child is aware of hygiene practices and what he or she can do to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
This one might be tough if your home doesn’t have outdoor space, but there are physical activities you can do indoors, too. Exercise plays a big role in keeping anxiety at bay, so make sure your child is getting enough physical activity on a daily basis even if that means getting creative with what you do at home. Something as simple as jumping on a mini-trampoline or with a jump rope is a great option to burn off excess energy and feel better overall.
A kid’s perspective on COVID-19 has a lot to do with his or her age and personal situation. As a parent, you can better help your child cope with the situation by discussing the situation and providing a safe and secure environment at home.