How to help your child's anxiety during COVID-19

COVID-19 has turned our world completely upside down. Life as we knew it has changed dramatically, and life going forward will probably never be the same. Although its a huge change for many parents, our children have been greatly affected by it, too. Your child may be exhibiting some anxiety during COVID-19. Here's what to look for and how you can help.

The world doesn't look the same as it did a few months ago. Our kids aren't going to school anymore. They aren't allowed to play with friends, go to the neighborhood playground, or even tag along with mom and dad to run errands. They hear words like "social distancing" and "death rate" constantly. Even with the most vigilant parents who try to prevent their children from watching the news or hearing the updates on the coronavirus, every child knows that life is different than it used to be. For some children, that can cause anxiety, fear, and emotional discourse.

Related: 8 Things You Need To Do RIGHT NOW To Fight COVID-19

Children exhibit feelings of anxiety in many different ways, and that largely depends on their age and developmental level. For younger children, anxiety can sometimes be exhibited with behavioral problems like lashing out or anger. For some, it may mean an increased need for affection or emotional support. Some children may have trouble sleeping or begin having worries about seemingly insignificant things like a parent leaving home to run errands or going outside.

Anxiety during a tumultuous time like the COVID-19 pandemic does not mean that your child has an anxiety disorder, however. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common anxiety disorder in children and adults, but it must be persistent outside of unusual circumstances like our current world situation. Some symptoms of GAD include:
  • restlessness
  • fatigue
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • trouble sleeping (insomnia)
According to experts, GAD is diagnosed when "a child should have one of these symptoms for six months or more, and they should be triggered by more than one thing, such as being anxious about work, school, and friends."

Your child may be exhibiting some of these symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that doesn't mean they have GAD. Life-altering situations can cause anxiety in children that did not have anxiety before, but it can also exacerbate anxiety in children who already have GAD or anxious tendencies.

Signs of a Child's Anxiety during COVID-19 Pandemic

Your child's mental health might be affected because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some signs of a child's anxiety during COVID-19 that you might want to look out for. It is important to consider your child's baseline behavior and examine their shift in behavior from there:
  • Regressive behaviors
  • Change in appetite
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sudden mood shifts or mood swings
  • Reassurance seeking
  • Needing more physical attention
  • Withdrawal
  • Psychosomatic complaints (i.e., complaining of illness when none is truly present)
  • Trouble focusing
  • Behavioral issues like acting out and defiant

Related: Your Child Can Write Letters for Those in COVID-19 Isolation: Here's How!

How To Help Your Child's Anxiety During COVID-19

If your child is exhibiting signs of anxiety during COVID-19, it generally won't be handled the same way as if your child has GAD or other anxious tendencies in their everyday life. Here a few ways parents can help their children cope with feelings of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic:
  • Create a safe space: In this case, home is you and your child's safe space. Try to limit discussions about the pandemic and the chaos in the world outside of your home while your children are present. Remind them that you have been given a gift to spend time together, and find fun activities that you might not have otherwise done if life was still the same.
  • Remind your child it's okay to be anxious: Share your feelings about the pandemic with them, too. Let them know that life is different now and it's okay to be worried about the unknown.
  • This will end: Reassure them that although things are different for now, that it will end and they will be able to play with friends, go back to school, and visit the playground.
  • Talk to them: Older children may need some time to share their feelings and thoughts. Give them an opportunity to open up and talk about how they are feeling and what they are thinking.
  • Play, write, or read through it: Some children just need to know why - why we are stuck in our homes, why they can't go to the playground, and why they can't see their friends. This video is a great way to show children how the virus works and how staying home is an important measure.
  • Set a routine: Many children thrive on routine and structure. Knowing "what comes next" is often a comfort. Setting a daily routine so your child has a bit more structure and comfort during their days is a great way to quell feelings of anxiety.
  • Spend more time together: Children may be exhibiting a little more physical needs than usual. Although you may be "touched out" from the constant physical presence of your entire family, try to spend quality time together playing games, watching movies, or going for family walks together.
  • Be patient: Your child's behavior may have changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If they are acting out, sleeping less, or acting more clingy or needy, try to remain patient and remember that they are having a hard time relegating their feelings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives dramatically, and this is something our children will remember and retell for the rest of their lives. Your child's anxiety during COVID-19 is probably temporary and this is a great time to meet your children at their emotional needs and create a stronger emotional bond with them.