Published on March 24, 2021

Helping a Child with Anxiety During COVID-19

teddy bear wearing a mask

Over the past year we have seen many changes and challenges in our day-to-day lives and activities because of COVID-19.

When we experience change or unknown, especially in our habitual routine, it is normal to feel anxious and fearful. Families have uprooted their daily activities because of COVID-19, and these changes have impacted children in many aspects and brought extra risk for developing anxiety.

Anxiety can impact children of any age and manifest in many ways, including:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Excessive worry
  • Avoidance
  • Crying spells
  • Inattention/poor focus
  • Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Changes in motivation/interest level
  • Needing constant reassurance

It’s important to recognize changes in your child’s behavior and be aware of how you can help him or her cope with stress and anxiety regarding COVID-19.

The first step is to create a routine and establish structure again to help produce feelings of safety and security for children. While our old structures may have been shattered, we want to establish new routines and try to incorporate fun and as much as the old routines as possible. Daily routines also promote regular sleeping and eating habits.

Our knowledge of COVID-19 has grown a lot in the last year, but there are still things that are unknown about the illness, and there are many outlets that have differing information. Therefore, it is important to check in with your children regularly to ask how they are doing and what they know about the virus. This is an opportunity to evaluate and validate their concerns, by normalizing any feelings of anxiety about the illness and changes that are occurring. This also provides an opportunity to educate them on what you know and don’t know about the illness, while also focusing on each child’s strengths.

When you notice your children struggling with anxiety, this is a great opportunity to teach them coping skills to help manage their anxiety. Much likes adults, children can practice deep breathing, drawing/coloring/painting, counting backward or using their senses.

Encourage your child to practice mindfulness, by staying present in the moment, and focusing only on the task at hand. There is a great line in the movie Kung Fu Panda that represents this well: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift. That is why it is called present.” Use this quote when you notice your children focusing too much on tomorrow or next week and bring their attention back to what they can do in the moment.

Another popular idea is a calm down corner (time-in space.) Create a space in your home with things that your child finds calming (blanket, pillow, favorite stuffed animal/toy etc.) and use this safe place where your child can practice coping skills to calm down. This is also teaching great emotional regulation skills that the child will hopefully utilize into adulthood.

Another significant feature of managing anxiety is focusing on things the child can control, instead of focusing on “what if” worst case scenario thoughts. When we use these two words together, we are selectively choosing a negative outcome. Re-direct your child’s thoughts by focusing on something positive and something they have control over, such as washing hands frequently, finishing schoolwork, engaging in an activity, calling a friend, etc. Also, as a family this is a great opportunity to focus on things you can be grateful for, which will help nurture positive thinking.

COVID-19 has presented many challenges, especially in the area of staying connected. Try to help your children stay connected to their friends as much as possible, by video chat, or meeting with safe distances. Now is the time to be creative!
Finally, you must also take care of yourself. Make sure that you are taking time for you and engaging in activities that you find enjoyable.

If anxiety becomes debilitating for you or your child, seek help from a professional.

Families have uprooted their daily activities because of COVID-19, and these changes put children at risk for anxiety.