How to deal with Covid-19 anxiety in children

Good parenting – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say ‘good enough parenting’, because none of us will do the job perfectly – is hard enough at the best of times. You’ll be a good parent if you respond to your children’s needs in a way that’s appropriate both to the issue at hand and your child’s unique makeup. To do that well, parents usually draw from similar situations and from similar experiences with that child. Now, however, we’re facing a situation where there are no precedents. 

If your children are feeling anxious due to changes to the rules and being unsettled at school, here are some suggestions to make it more likely your responses will be the best they can be…

Be reassuring in an honest way

Mindless reassurance won’t reassure, particularly because you’re almost certainly feeling anxious, and children react more to our moods than our words. It’s OK to say you don’t know exactly why the rules keep changing – better, in fact, than pretending you do know why. You can, however, say with certainty that we’re learning more about this completely new virus every day, and that as we learn we’ll also be able to come up with new and better ways to respond. That makes changing the rules something positive rather than negative.

Take time to listen to their point of view

It’s normal to assume other people see things as we do, but we’re almost always wrong when that other person is a child. Children construct the world differently and often have surprisingly different priorities to ours. When your child says they’re worried, ask them exactly why, and what outcomes they most fear. Don’t jump in and offer reassurance or advice. First, just listen.

Avoid blame

Emphasise that no one is to blame in the current situation, that everyone is doing their best – but what ‘best’ means keeps changing. Tell your child they’ll be doing the right thing if they follow each day’s rules as best they can. Make sure they know you’re proud of them for that.

Be a good role model

Your behaviour, like your moods, speak more loudly to your children than your words. Keep as informed as possible, follow the guidelines as best you can, avoid blame, and treat others with courtesy and respect.

Finally, a word to parents whose children have had to behave differently – perhaps to quarantine for the sake of a vulnerable relative:  Any child who appears to be different from their classmates, or who behaves unusually, is vulnerable to teasing – and this is even more likely during stressful times. The biggest worry is that your child, in an effort to appear brave or not to worry you, won’t tell you. Look out for clues such as loss of appetite, nightmares and/or waking at night, more frequent complaints of aches and pains. If you notice several of these signs, when you’re alone with them, ask if there’s anything worrying them. Listen quietly and then explain that ignoring cruel words is best. Have they a reliable friend? Encourage them to stick with that friend. You could also speak to their teacher, although it’s not advisable to hide your intention from your child. A good teacher will then talk to the entire class about the need for kindness and understanding of others, and will quietly keep an eye out for your child’s welfare.

Most important of all, remind your children every day how much you love them and how proud you are of their efforts.  

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