In a few months, coronavirus has upended the lives of children around the world. As of early April, most children across the United States have been sheltering and learning at home, missing not only their usual routines and activities, but also social contact with their teachers and friends.
Staying at home is essential to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak and flatten the curve so the health care system can meet the needs of those who become ill. It’s a stressful time for parents, but it can be a tough time for kids, too.
Children are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic based on their personal situations and past experiences. As a parent, you can help. Learn the most common signs of stress to watch for, the factors that can affect your children’s emotional response to stress and how you can help them cope and avoid any lasting effects.
How to Spot Signs of Stress in Children
Your children may be upset about the amount of change to their regular routines and social supports. Younger children are likely too little to understand what’s happening but will still be noticing changes.
Put yourself in your kids’ shoes and recognize that they may be missing out on the usual perks of childhood. For example, they may not go back to school for the rest of this school year. Family vacation plans might be canceled, and they may not be going to summer camp or playing summer sports.
Watch for these common signs of stress in your children, as described by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Difficulty paying attention or concentrating
- Excessive crying, irritation, worry or sadness
- Regressing to behaviors they’ve outgrown
- Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
Factors That Affect How Kids Cope
The impact of a stressful event like a pandemic on your children’s emotional well-being depends on their personalities and experiences, your family’s social and economic circumstances and the availability of resources in your community, according to the CDC. As a result, children respond to stress in different ways.
Consider these specific factors that can affect children’s emotional response to an emergency:
- Belief that they or a loved one is in danger or may die
- Communication among family members
- Direct involvement with the emergency
- How parents respond
- Loss of a family member, close friend or pet
- Previous experience with a stressful event
- Relationships among family members
- Repeated exposure to news about COVID-19
- Separation from parents or caregivers
Help Your Children Manage Stress, Anxiety, Sadness
Talk to your children about the COVID-19 outbreak, even before you see signs of stress. As their parent, you are in the best position to help them make sense of the current situation.
The CDC suggests these general principles for talking with your children about coronavirus:
Remain calm and reassuring. Remember that your children will react to what you say and how you say it.
Make yourself available to listen and talk. Your children need to know they can come to you anytime.
Avoid blaming others and using language that leads to stigma. Avoid making assumptions about who might be sick or spreading the disease.
Pay attention to what kids hear or see on TV and online. Continuous exposure to news about the pandemic can be upsetting, so you may need to limit your children’s screen time. Remind them that some of the stories they may see online could be inaccurate and based on rumors.
Provide honest and accurate information. Use your judgment about how much detail you share based on your children’s ages and development.
Teach them to help reduce the spread of germs. Children can do their part to help prevent the spread by:
- Coughing or sneezing into a tissue and throwing it in the trash
- Helping to clean frequently touched surfaces in the home
- Practicing social distancing
- Staying away from anyone who is sick
- Washing hands properly
- Wearing a cloth face mask in public when social distancing is difficult
Note that face masks should only be worn by children ages two and older. Older children can get help making their own homemade cloth face coverings.
Help your children stay active. Take a walk or go for a run or a bike ride with your kids, making sure to maintain social distancing from others. Shoot some hoops in your yard or try some dance breaks throughout the day.
Encourage your children to stay socially connected with family and friends. This is an excellent time for your youngsters to connect with extended family members through phone calls or video chats. Your children may enjoy the quiet company of a best friend through a video chat, even if they don’t talk much while they do their own activities.
More Positive Parenting Tips
Parenting experts from the CDC, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other leading organizations have created a new set of evidence-based resources to help parents support their children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Download the series of six one-pagers with tips on:
- Avoiding bad behavior
- Creating routines
- Managing stress
- Planning one-on-one time
- Staying positive
- Talking about coronavirus
AdventHealth Can Help
If your children are showing signs of stress and strong emotions or behaviors due to the COVID-19 outbreak, contact us today to set up a video visit through the AdventHealth App.
Our behavioral health and mental health teams are ready to provide you and your children with compassionate care and support throughout the pandemic. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Hub for more information and find answers to your coronavirus FAQs.