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Helping Kids Cope With Uncertainty During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Over the last two weeks we’ve been quarantined, I have seen each of my kids break down. For one, it was thinking about a friend who moved away almost two years ago. For another, it was stress over her dance classes moving to an online format. For the third, it was fresh, hot tears for the birthmother who made an adoption plan for her 11 years ago.

Three different stories. But at the core, all of these emotions are related to their lives suddenly throwing them for a loop due to the coronavirus (COVID-19), the new viral strain that causes respiratory infection and can lead to serious or fatal health complications. I have felt thrown myself. Having wrestled with anxiety much of my life, I have learned some coping skills to help me through.

But what do my kids need during this time?

How Kids Process Anxiety

Many of us have dealt with stress as adults. We have felt the physical sensations, been stricken by the emotions and understood the ramifications for our lives. Yet, we still struggle. It is not easy to get rid of it.

Now imagine the whole of that experience bundled up in small child or a hormonal teenager.

We know that many of our children are already struggling with anxiety. Now their world has changed, their friends are removed, their parents are stressed and they don’t know when it’s going to end.

Some of them will cry about random incidents that don’t seem worthy of tears. Many of them will act out. They may become moody and distant. They may outright rebel to whatever bright plan you have for making their day more fun.

In short, their anxiety and grief will not look like nervousness. It is more likely to look like misbehavior.

What Our Kids Need From Us

Our kids need us to be the strong, steady captains of the boat rocking beneath their feet. They need us to see past the mood swings and pay attention to their hearts.

They need us to care more about them than we do the messes in our houses, the schoolwork left unfinished or the seeming lack of respect they exhibit at times.

They may be completely unaware of the emotions coursing through them, and they are unlikely to know how to process those feelings anyway. It’s our job to patiently guide them.

Strategies for Guiding Them

Let them express their thoughts and feelings.

Our kids need a safe space and person to talk to about their thoughts. It may or may not be a parent. It might be helpful to just ask, “How are you feeling about all of these changes?” and then listen and let them vent without judgment.

Don’t skimp on the quality time.

While we are all experiencing much togetherness with our kids, they still need quality time with us. They need to know that we care and we are available. That involves making eye contact, listening well and doing things they enjoy doing, not just sitting side-by-side on the couch.

Teach healthy coping skills.

This is a perfect opportunity for kids to learn valuable coping skills. You can encourage them to journal, pray, meditate, go for walks or draw — many of the same things adults do to feel better when they’re under stress. You can also model healthy coping behaviors for them or make it a family activity.

Keep the structure and routine.

You are likely creating a completely new schedule, and that can seem overwhelming. Persevere with it, while giving the kids time for adjustment. You will all feel more comfortable and at peace when there is familiarity to your days, even if the structure is loose. Get older kids involved in coming up with ideas for their schedule.

Shift the mood.

Anxiety is contagious. When one person is anxious or having a bad day, it spreads quickly. As parents, we can be proactive in shifting the atmosphere in our homes. When you feel bad attitudes taking hold, try resetting with a fun activity or getting everyone outdoors. Also keep news media and conversations about the virus to a minimum. Be honest with your kids, but don’t expose them to dramatic headlines that they can’t fully understand.

Pour on the patience.

Most importantly, our kids need a lot of grace in this time. They are flexible and strong and capable of so much. But there will be moments that they just need understanding and patience from us. Assume the best of them and not the worst. Their hard day is not a poor reflection on your parenting. It’s just a hard day. Give them grace, have as much fun as you can muster and watch them flourish.

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

Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash

Originally published: April 8, 2020
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