Helping Children Cope with Anxiety

family eating breakfast

In this Q&A with Lauren Grodin, PsyD, a clinical pediatric psychologist at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, she gives some helpful advice on how parents can help their children cope with anxiety and stress as we adjust a new normal living during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Is it normal for my children to feel anxious these days? Why?

It’s completely normal and understandable for children to feel anxious right now. We know that kids do best with routines and structure, and their typical routines are completely disrupted right now. They can’t go to school, play with their friends, or participate in activities they’re used to doing.

They’re also hearing about coronavirus either from their parents talking about it, or overhearing the news and what they see on social media, which can also contribute to anxiety and worry.

Can my kids feed off my behaviors and emotions?

Absolutely! Children regularly feed off of our emotions and behaviors, so if we are showing them that we’re distressed and anxious, they’re going to feel distressed and anxious too. That’s why it’s so important that parents find healthy ways to manage their own stress and anxiety, as this will help model good coping for our children.

What are some things I can do to help my children cope with stress and anxiety right now?

There are many ways you can help your kids cope during the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, don’t be afraid to talk about coronavirus with your child.

Avoiding these conversations can make them more worried, so it’s important to feed off your child’s cues and try to answer their questions honestly while using developmentally appropriate language. It’s also okay if you don’t have answers for everything.

You should also make sure to provide calm and frequent reassurance to your child.

  • Discuss what you’re doing to help stay safe and healthy.
  • While we’re all practicing physical distancing right now, this doesn’t mean that kids can’t stay connected with their friends and loved ones. Video chats and other virtual social connections are a great way to maintain personal connections while practicing physical distancing.
  • You can practice washing hands together while singing a favorite song for 20 seconds.

It’s also important to maintain routines as much as possible during this time.

This will help create predictability and normalcy for your child.  

  • After you wake up, get dressed and start your day as if you’re going to school or work.
  • Try to sit together for meals as a family when possible.
  • Take walks outside together to get exercise and fresh air each day.
  • Maintain typical bedtime routines.
  • Work together to make up fun and creative ways to keep busy while at home.

How can I juggle working from home while keeping my kids on a routine and engaged, especially with virtual or at home learning recommended by teachers and schools?

We recognize that many families are struggling with the adjustment to work from home while trying to keep their kids educated, on a routine, and engaged. While routines are helpful and important, what’s even more valuable is that kids continue to feel comforted and loved during times of uncertainty. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to follow a strict daily routine filled with highly enriching academic activities, if it’s becoming more stressful than helpful for you and your kids. Be forgiving with yourself and your children, and accept those moments when you have to toss that perfect schedule and just do what works best to help you and your family cope right now.

We know this is a very challenging time for families and their children, so focus on those things that are within your control to help take care of yourself and your children, both physically and emotionally. While we may be physically separated right now, our goal is to get through this stronger together.

Take several deep breaths and remember the power of play — have a little fun together, while getting through each day.

About the Author

Grodin Lauren K Lauren Grodin, PsyD, is a clinical pediatric psychologist and manager of Pediatric Psychology at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. She received her doctoral degree from Nova Southeastern University and completed her psychology fellowship in the Pediatric Psychology Consultation Program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Disclaimer: The ideas and opinions presented in this blog post do not reflect the ideas and opinions of Memorial Healthcare System.