5 Ways to Help Kids Cope with Covid Anxiety
Maybe you've noticed your kiddo squirming around in their seat and distracted during Zoom school or panicking when going out in public. Covid has undoubtedly taken a toll on everyone's mental health and disrupted our daily lives and routines. While pandemic strain has greatly increased the stresses of adulthood, our children have been hit especially hard.
Families are reporting changes in their children's mental and emotional health — notably increased anxiety — and many parents have been left wondering how to help their kids cope.
You don't have to figure it out alone. Read on for some suggestions from experts Dr. David Rabin, MD, PhD, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist and the co-founder of Apollo Neuro, and Amy Edgar, APRN, CRNP, FNP-C, founder of the CICS - Children's Integrated Center for Success, both pioneers in the mental health space, on how to help your kids deal with change and Covid anxiety:
1. Give them some space, literally.
Much of the pandemic anxiety that kids feel is due to a disruption of their normal routine and environment. If your child's school has been moved online, try carving out a "school space" in the house where they can do all of their work with few distractions. Establishing a separate space in the home helps to instill structure, separating work from the rest of their day.
Small changes to your child's environment can help them stay focused in situations where they are expected to pay attention. Sensory interventions like a white noise machine or noise-canceling headphones help keep your child focused and present while studying. Nurse Edgar recommends filling a sock with rice to create a DIY reusable heating pad. The weight, feel, and warmth of the object can provide comfort and help to ground kids in the moment. Add a few drops of lavender essential oil for an extra calming effect.
Visual schedules and goal charts placed around your child's space can help them stay on track too — hang them around the house and maybe even invest in a large whiteboard.
2. Practice meditation, breathwork, and mindfulness with them.
"Deep breathing, yoga, meditation, stretching and other mindfulness activities, when done properly, can and do boost safety signals to our brains that rebound in our nervous system, calming us down," explains Dr. Rabin, who has spent over a decade counseling thousands of patients who struggle with anxiety, stress and PTSD.
While it may seem challenging to teach meditation and breathwork to someone so young, children of all ages can benefit from learning different ways of practicing mindfulness. These tools are incredibly useful when it comes to improving focus and relieving stress.
This doesn't mean forcing your child to sit on a cushion and practice meditation for 30 minutes a day, but you can teach them about awareness of body and breath and how to use these activities to calm down. See our 3 Easy Mindfulness Exercises for Your Littles and Creative Tools for Helping Kids Manage Anxiety.
Nurse Edgar suggests using bubbles to teach children about breathwork and the importance of deep breathing. Have them exhale and blow a bubble out, then wait a few seconds and inhale to prepare for the next bubble. Then, move on to 'blowing bubbles' without the wand, and this will mimic deep breathing.
This is a great tool for children because it is something they can tap into at any moment that will remind them that they are safe.
3. Establish a routine.
Creating a regular schedule helps maintain a sense of calm and predictability and can help kids feel more 'normal.' Children of all ages benefit from routine. Try structuring your child's day as closely as you can to their pre-Covid schedule, keeping their bedtime and morning and evening routines consistent.
A Covid routine should follow a general order, such as:
- Wake up (at the same time every weekday).
- Get dressed, have some breakfast and active play in the morning before transitioning into schoolwork.
- Have a regular "lunchtime," and set aside time for homework in the afternoon.
- Do a family activity in the evening--bonus points for something creative!
- Reading at night is a great way to calm down. Ending the day with a regular routine helps enforce positive sleep patterns which additionally contribute to easing anxiety.
It is important for your children to maintain some social interaction even if it is via Facetime — considered reaching out to parents of your child's friends to establish a regular online "recess" or playdates.
4. Set the tone & listen with compassion.
Parents set the tone of their household, and modeling good coping skills is crucial. Take care not to express extreme negativity and fear and try your very best to stay positive, as difficult as that may be at the moment. If you're struggling with your own anxiety, make it a priority to set aside time to take care of yourself, whether this means seeking help from a therapist or engaging in activities like yoga or exercise. Demonstrating the importance of self-care to your kids encourages them to take care of themselves in turn.
Talk through how you are managing your own feelings to normalize this kind of conversation in your household. When your child comes to you with Covid concerns, it may be tempting to assure them that everything is going to be ok, but this can backfire and doesn't fully address their worries. Rather than taking this approach or dismissing your child's concerns, listen carefully to their feelings and find out where they are getting their information. Validate their worries while ensuring that they don't have any misconceptions about the disease.
Acknowledge how your child is feeling in the moment. Try using language like "I can see that you are feeling scared and anxious — a lot of people are feeling that way right now." Make sure to differentiate "what if" from "what is", and to help make clear what is happening versus what your child might be worried about happening.
Check in regularly, keep communication open, and give lots of soothing hugs.
There are a variety of tools and resources that can help. Dr. Rabin is the co-founder of Apollo Neuro, which has developed the first scientifically validated wearable that actively improves our resilience to stress using a novel touch therapy that signals safety to the brain. The size of an Apple watch, the Apollo has no distracting screens and even has special bands just for kids. A test run by Nurse Edgar found that 100 percent of pediatric subjects dealing with ADHD and anxiety showed improvements in anxiety and impulse control from wearing the Apollo.
CBD can also help kids and adults alike. Dr. Rabin recommends the Premium CBD Tincture by Artis Botanicals. CBD (cannabidiol) is a substance extracted from hemp or marijuana that does not contain THC or get you high. Available in numerous forms from tinctures to gummies, CBD treats a variety of health complaints from migraines to chronic pain to stress. In children, it is most frequently used to help with focus, sleep, and calm.
You can even help your kid create their own personal anti-anxiety kit full of tools to help them calm down if they start to get worried and worked up. If you have noticed that certain activities or toys seem to soothe your child, include them in the kit, whether this is a stress ball, a piece of soft fabric, or their favorite book. When they start to feel anxious, they can pull the kit out.
Know when you need additional help and reach out to your child's primary care provider who can offer further suggestions.
How are you coping with Covid going into 2021? Share with us @BritandCo!
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