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Tips for Helping Children Cope With Anxiety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Editor's Note

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The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful, anxious time for most parents. In addition to our own concerns, which include everything from our family’s health to the unstable economy, experts agree that children and teens are in an exceptionally vulnerable position where anxiety may arise and/or become exacerbated. This is a frightening notion for parents, and understandably so. To combat any anxious tendencies, families must first be aware of the potential for these feelings to emerge. In recognizing increased levels of stress and anxiety in kids, it is paramount that we first acknowledge and then talk through the issues at hand.

One important thing for parents to remember is that, once children begin to reach adolescence, their preferred soundboards shift from parents and guardians to their peers. Instead of relying on mom and dad for advice and support, kids tend to lean more on their close friends when dealing with issues. Of course, this only makes sense, due to the fact that our peers are the ones immersed in the daily strife and are experiencing the same or similar events from a familiar vantage point.

The teenage years are partly marked by the bonds and camaraderie that develop among peer groups. Therefore, the sudden and swift separation from those peer groups that COVID-19 has caused can leave adolescents feeling exceptionally vulnerable and lonely. Yes, technology allows for consistent contact for socializing — and today’s generation of teens is as savvy as ever. However, FaceTime, DMs and Zoom calls do not automatically fulfill the need and desire for close, face-to-face interactions and conversations with peers. Furthermore, the social sphere, whether that’s elementary, middle or high school, has temporarily vanished, leaving kids suddenly yearning for their routines, daily interactions, typical schedules and structures.

To help put anxious minds at ease, parents should be prepared to have several conversations:

  • Be aware of and acknowledge that the current situation is uncomfortable and unnerving. Kids need to feel validated in their feelings, so this is not the time to lead with, “suck it up,” “it’s not that bad,” or “others have it way worse than you.” Those statements, while potentially true, only serve to alienate your child further — again, they already feel lonely. They need to feel heard and understood now.
  • Encourage them to discuss and express their frustrations and listen. This is a frustrating time for nearly everyone, so children need to be provided with an outlet to express and release those anxious feelings.
  • Think about activities that allow your child to engage in physical activity while simultaneously having a discussion about what they’re experiencing and feeling. Dribbling the soccer ball, shooting hoops, even walking the dog or jumping on the trampoline can provide families with time to chat, while also releasing pent up energy and/or emotions.
  • Encourage virtual socializing among peers, being sure to agree upon outlets, expectations and time limits that are appropriate to the child’s age.
  • Think about having opportunities for groups of moms and daughters to have a virtual coffee date or discuss the latest episode of everyone’s favorite TV show.
  • Plan a virtual pizza party for young kids in the neighborhood if your youngster seems down or lonely.
  • Organize a Zoom call with karaoke to shake things up among friends or family.

The point is this: anxiety during this time, especially for kids and adolescents, can be overwhelming. Between hormonal changes and brain development, teens are practically primed to experience higher levels of stress as it is. Parents can help by acknowledging the difficulties, encouraging social connections and validating their child’s emotions.

For more on parenting during quarantine, check out the following stories from our community:

Getty image by Fizkes.

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