How to manage your kids’ anxiety over COVID-19

Keeping structure, routines for children is critical during social clampdown

Amid the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, children may worry about getting sick or how the disease may affect their loved ones. Parents and guardians play an important role in helping children process what is happening and relieving anxiety during this public health crisis.

Keeping regular routines can help kids maintain structure

As children transition to staying at home because schools are closed, parents should focus on maintaining normal routines for eating meals, bedtime and playing, said Katy Hopkins, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist, Norton Children’s Medical Group.

“Kids thrive in structure and routine, which school naturally provides them, but families can still do their best to implement structure and routine,” Dr. Hopkins said. “Even just maintaining consistent times for meals and activities is really important for supporting a child’s overall well-being.”

Dr. Hopkins added that children also can benefit from this extra time for play. It’s important to limit the use of electronics. Instead, take walks as a family or play outside, so long as you avoid crowded playgrounds and maintain social distancing, she said. Spending time outdoors supports mental well-being and can combat cabin fever.

How to manage anxiety about COVID-19

For managing anxiety in children, it’s important for parents to be the gatekeepers of coronavirus information, Dr. Hopkins said. This involves limiting a child’s exposure to news sources and having age-appropriate conversations about the disease.

“Obsessively checking the news can raise a lot of anxiety in kids, so adults should take breaks from screen time and model that behavior for children,” Dr. Hopkins said. “Kids may be hearing from the news that people are dying or getting hospitalized, but they won’t understand what that means for them, which can lead to anxiety.”

To guide a child’s understanding of this difficult time, initiate discussions and welcome questions. As soon as a child questions or seems to be thinking about the situation, it’s time to talk, Dr. Hopkins said.

Keep information simple and remind children that health and school officials are working hard to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Dr. Hopkins recommends parents follow these strategies when discussing COVID-19 with children:

  • Make yourself available to listen and talk. Make sure children know they can come to you when they have questions.
  • Remain calm and reassuring. Children will react to not only what you say, but also how you say it.
  • Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma. Viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity. Avoid making assumptions about who might have coronavirus.
  • Provide information that is honest, accurate and appropriate for the child’s age and developmental level.
  • Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs, such as proper hand-washing.