Managing children’s anxiety in the new world
We are constantly surrounded by news about the pandemic. We not only watch it on TV or read about it in papers, but also get information in the form of WhatsApp forwards and other means. Most of the devices we use have news alerts and we discuss the situation during our conversations within the family or on the phone with friends or during our zoom call sessions with friends, family and co-workers.
Naturally, our kids are also exposed to these conversations and a lot of information. Older kids who have access to the same devices often get the latest news from all kinds of websites and their own circle of friends. They also attend online classes where they discuss the lockdown and hear from other kids and teachers about their experiences.
Younger kids often catch all this in bits and snatches. Though their exposure level is not the same, they may still be processing a lot of information.
The prolonged lockdown brings its own stress. According to a recent survey by Save the Children conducted in Europe, up to 65 per cent of the children struggled with boredom and feelings of isolation.
If all this social isolation, lack of outdoor time, lockdown and uncertainty is worrisome for adults, it is obvious that kids would be worried too. However, unlike adults who may be able to identify and express their emotions, kids may not be able to cope very well and tend to be confused or anxious. Instead of sadness or irritability, anxiety in kids often results in bad behaviour. When kids act out, parents often try to correct their behaviour without understanding what is causing it.
For example, a pre-teen, who is anxious may react angrily and lash out without much provocation. A younger child may start bed wetting. A teenager may be withdrawn while a younger child may be more clingy. Parents can help children cope with lockdown induced anxiety by trying to understand what they are going through. Talking to children about their feelings and helping them set a healthy routine can go a long way to reduce their stress level.
Parents need to go the extra mile especially with children who have been cooped up at home with nowhere to go for months on end.
Here are some tips to provide kids with the support they need during the lockdown and even after the lockdown as everyone continues to be wary about the situation.
Limit exposure: Try not to constantly discuss the situation in your locality or about people you know who are infected. Be mindful of such conversations on the phone when children are around. Try to stick to age appropriate information such as preventive measures including the importance of washing hands, general hygiene and maintaining a distance. Teach children to avoid believing everything they are told by friends. Don’t allow them to access your WhatsApp conversations or watch random YouTube videos about the pandemic.
Provide credible information: With all the fake news, it is easy to get carried away and panic or everything. Try to model the approach you would want them to have by looking at credible government and medical sites for information. Show older kids which sites they can trust and how to look to for information and what they must avoid. Assure younger kids that you will share all the relevant information and so that they don’t need to seek it from random sources.
Take constructive steps: Eating right to boost immunity, exercising together as a family, finding ways to stay connected with their circle of friends, are some of the ways in which you can provide a positive environment. Instead of worrying about contracting the disease, they can actually look at boosting their own immunity by improving their diet and by practicing yoga and meditation. Include children in day to day family activities so they don’t feel left out and encourage them to speak to grandparents, close friends and family members often so they feel connected despite not being physically close.
Address their concerns: Children are afraid about what is going to happen to people they love or they may worry about their education and future. Tell them truthfully about the situation and allay their fears as much as possible. Encourage them to learn new skills if they are worried about their career and also help enjoy the time they have on their hands without worrying about the future. It is a good time to learn to focus on things one can control than on things that may or may not happen.
Look out for signs of stress and depression: If you see any obvious signs like lack of appetite or loss of sleep, don’t dismiss it. Observe the child to see if it is a one off thing or sustained over a couple of weeks. Look for any changes in behaviour that is affecting her day to day life. If you are not able to help the child and you feel that the child needs support, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional.
‘Children at risk of lasting psychological distress from coronavirus lockdown’: Save the Children – https://reliefweb.int/report/world/children-risk-lasting-psychological-distress-coronavirus-lockdow n-save-children