GOAL: Help families learn to handle stress and anxiety, specifically surrounding the coronavirus epidemic and the accompanying cancellations, school closures, and life changes
The ADVENTURE: Review the resources below and choose those that will be most helpful to your family.
Give your family your full attention, especially during times of natural disaster or world pandemics.
Let your kids talk, and really listen to them; or let them be silent, and sit with them in their silence. Whichever they need to do, be there to love them through it.
If possible provide some of their favorite snacks or activities during this time.
A new poll from Axios-Ipsos found nearly a third of American adults said their emotional well being had gotten worse because of the coronavirus outbreak. Psychologist Dr. Lisa Damour shared 5 strategies for coping with anxiety during the pandemic:
1. A bit of anxiety right now "is the right reaction"
A bit of anxiety is "the right reaction" right now because it will motivate us to wash our hands to not get too close to people. But it's important to make sure that anxiety is in the right proportion. As of today, the CDC is still saying that the threat of COVID-19 is low, for most Americans, and that's something we want to bear in mind.
2. To help our children's anxiety, keep routines
Children's lives have been especially upended by the coronavirus. To help them navigate the outbreak kids need routines and structure. She recommends a daily schedule to bring some predictability back into daily life. This is what kids really require. It's actually what everybody requires — and it's something that will give them, and us, tremendous comfort.
3. For children learning from home, "let technology be your friend"
With tens of millions of kids home from school, many parents have had to step in to help their children continue learning. Damour suggests that parents let technology be your friend if you've got good digital access. There are tremendous resources online for kids.
4. Parents with kids at home: "It's OK if you get frustrated"
Damour said, "The amount of patience we can muster at this moment is going to be really, really important. It's OK if you get frustrated, your kids are going to get frustrated." She recommends taking breaks for time outside when tensions run high and tag-teaming homeschooling and child care with another adult if possible.
5. It's "important to be able to distract yourself"
In the long term, Damour said that anxiety is okay and stress is okay, but when it becomes chronic that can really take it out of people. To combat this it is important to be able to distract yourself. Check out from time to time, go watch a funny movie, go call someone who you can just have a light conversation with. Give yourself breaks from it.
Things to do to support yourself
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
- Take care of your body.
- Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
- Eat healthy, well-balanced meals,
- Exercise regularly,
- Get plenty of sleep,
- Avoid alcohol and drugs.
- Make a GRATITUDE List!! This will keep you focused on the good in your life, and the many things you have to be thankful. For example, we have more time to spend with family, we are all learning good behavior, we now have time to spend time doing some of the things we don't normally have time for. What are the things you are most grateful for, whether covid-19 related or not. For example, I had the best conversation I have had with one of my sons in over 12 years. It has nothing to do with covid-19- or maybe it does. It doesn't matter- My heart is greatful!
- Take time to do activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others using technology. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
- One program said to identify your worries by making a list. Perhaps they are thinking that identifying what you are worried about can help you be aware of which worries you CAN do something about, and what you can't, and that may help some. BUT . . .
- Remember that what you THINK about and THANK about you will BRING About. In other words, what you focus on you will bring more of, so it might.
If stress gets in the way of your daily activities for several days in a row call your health provider.
Reducing stress in yourself and others
Share the facts about COVID-19 and understand the actual risk to yourself and people you care about. This can make an outbreak less stressful. When you share accurate information about COVID-19 people feel less stressed. It also allows you to connect with them.
Regardless of your child’s age, he or she may feel upset or have other strong emotions after an emergency. Some children react right away, while others may show signs of difficulty much later. How a child reacts and the common signs of distress can vary according to the child’s age, previous experiences, and how the child typically copes with stress.
Children and teens react, in part, on what they see from the adults around them. When parents and caregivers deal with the COVID-19 calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children. Parents can be more reassuring to others around them, especially children, if they are better prepared.
Not all children and teens respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for include:
- Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
- Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (for example, toileting accidents or bedwetting)
- Excessive worry or sadness
- Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
- Irritability and “acting out” behaviors in teens
- Poor school performance or avoiding school
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
- Unexplained headaches or body pain
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
There are many things you can do to support your child:
- Take time to talk with your child or teen about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand.
- Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
- Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
- Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
- Be a role model. Setting a good example for your children by managing your stress through healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding drugs and alcohol, is critical for parents and caregivers. When you are prepared, rested, and relaxed you can respond better to unexpected events and can make decisions in the best interest of your family and loved ones.
Tips for before, during, and after a traumatic event
- Talk to your children so that they know you are prepared to keep them safe.
- Review safety plans before a disaster or emergency happens. Having a plan will increase your children’s confidence and help give them a sense of control.
- Stay calm and reassure your children.
- Talk to children about what is happening in a way that they can understand. Keep it simple and appropriate for each child’s age.
- Provide children with opportunities to talk about what they went through or what they think about it. Encourage them to share concerns and ask questions.
- You can help your children feel a sense of control and manage their feelings by encouraging them to take action directly related to the disaster. For example, children can help others after a disaster, including volunteering to help community or family members in a safe environment. Children should NOT participate in disaster cleanup activities for health and safety reasons.
- It is difficult to predict how some children will respond to disasters and traumatic events. Because parents, teachers, and other adults see children in different situations, it is important for them to work together to share information about how each child is coping after a traumatic event.
Common Reactions by Age
The common reactions to distress will fade over time for most children. Children who were directly exposed to a disaster can become upset again; behavior related to the event may return if they see or hear reminders of what happened. If children continue to be very upset or if their reactions hurt their schoolwork or relationships then parents may want to talk to a professional or have their children talk to someone who specializes in children’s emotional needs. Here are some common reactions to distress by age:
Infants to 2 year olds
- Infants may become more cranky.
- They may cry more than usual or want to be held and cuddled more.
3 to 6 year olds
- Preschool and kindergarten children may return to behaviors they have outgrown. For example, toileting accidents, bed-wetting, or being frightened about being separated from their parents/caregivers.
- They may also have tantrums or a hard time sleeping.
7 to 10 year olds
- Older children may feel sad, mad, or afraid that the event will happen again.
- Peers may share false information; however, parents or caregivers can correct the misinformation.
- Older children may focus on details of the event and want to talk about it all the time or not want to talk about it at all.
- They may have trouble concentrating.
Preteens and teenagers
- Some preteens and teenagers respond to trauma by acting out. This could include reckless driving, and alcohol or drug use.
- Others may become afraid to leave the home.
- They may cut back on how much time they spend with their friends.
- They can feel overwhelmed by their intense emotions and feel unable to talk about them.
- Their emotions may lead to increased arguing and even fighting with siblings, parents/caregivers or other adults.
For special needs children
- Children who need continuous use of a breathing machine or are confined to a wheelchair or bed, may have stronger reactions to a threatened or actual disaster. They might have more intense distress, worry or anger than children without special needs because they have less control over day-to-day well-being than other people.
- The same is true for children with other physical, emotional, or intellectual limitations. Children with special needs may need extra words of reassurance, more explanations about the event, and more comfort and other positive physical contact such as hugs from loved ones.
For Families and Children
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by Managing Stress and Anxiety