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With mounting concern over the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), it is understandable that many individuals and families may experience a significant increase in anxiety. Children look to adults for guidance on how to manage stressful situations. Below are some guidelines for helping children and teens manage anxiety during this difficult time:
Model Calm Behavior
Children are sensitive to their surroundings and tend to follow your verbal and non-verbal responses. Be mindful of your own feelings and reactions as this will be the example that your children will follow. By modeling calmness, you communicate to your child that there is no need to panic or worry.
Encourage Communication/Validate Feelings
Make yourself available and encourage your child to talk about his/her feelings. Acknowledge and validate their feelings. Help them reframe their emotions into a more manageable perspective. Assure them that you want to hear any other upsetting thoughts, concerns, fears or issues that are bothering them.
Offer Honest Reassurance
What you say about COVID-19 and related events can increase or decrease your child’s anxiety. Offer age-appropriate facts and, as long as it is true, reassure your child that he/she and other family members are currently fine. Remind them that the adults around them are working hard to keep them safe and healthy.
Educate about Prevention
Children can be told that COVID-19 spreads between people who are in close contact with one another, when an infected person coughs or sneezes or when someone touches an infected surface or object. Reduce their anxiety by providing guidance on reducing the spread of illness. Help your child to be proactive by encouraging the following activities: washing hands multiple times a day for at least 20 seconds (have them sing the ABC’s to keep time), use hand sanitizer several times a day, cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of the elbow, and refrain from sharing food or drinks with others.
Maintain a Normal Routine
Adhering to the normal schedule of your household, as much as possible, should help to reduce anxiety. Children tend to feel more secure when there is structure, routine and predictability. Regardless of the fact that the routine of the outer world has altered, you can maintain many of the typical activities in your home.
Limit and CLOSELY Monitor Exposure to News and other Media
Children are constantly exposed to a large amount of information. To avoid unnecessary anxiety, limit their exposure to TV and other news media, and monitor them closely if they are watching the news. Frequent “breaking news” announcements can scare children and heighten anxiety.
Provide Age-Appropriate Facts
Early elementary school age children need very simple information and only as they appear to be concerned or seeking advice. Again, reassure them that the adults around them are working hard to keep them safe and are there to take care of them if they become sick.
Upper elementary school age children need more information. They may have heard rumors or feel confused about the facts of this situation. While it is important to provide enough facts to reduce their stress, it is also important to acknowledge that the situation is still evolving.
Upper middle school and high school students have the ability to consider the issues more in depth and may need to have a thorough discussion with you about COVID-19, what they have heard and what concerns them. We can refer older children and teens to factual sources about the virus, as knowing more about it will help them to feel a sense of control. Remember, too, that using social media may color their perspective.
Utilize the Support of Healthcare Professionals
Every child is different and you know your child BEST. If your child struggles in particular areas, appears to be demonstrating excessive anxiety and/or has been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder you may need to consult with a physician or a mental health professional for further guidance.
Disclaimer: The items in the informational list above are recommendations only. Please defer to involved medical professionals and/or mental health practitioners if there is any emergency, or for specific recommendations regarding your child.
Susan Metzger, M.Ed., LPC, NCC
PCHAS Clinical Director in Farmington, MO
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