Children may be anxious about Coronavirus (COVID-19) for a number of reasons. They may be aware things are happening they do not understand. They may be frightening of getting sick, or worry those they care about and rely on might get sick too. They may be struggling if they aren’t in contact with friends and loved ones. Their usual routines will have changed.
Being able to comfort your child is important, even if you feel scared and unsettled yourself. Children will be reassured by clear, age appropriate information. And they can be distracted with other activities they enjoy.
This post links you to sources of support to help you care for your child.
If your child has questions about the Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Unicef Australia have created a list of answers to the most common fears children have about the Coronavirus while BBC Newsround has a short film explaining the virus. Newsround may be worth returning to as they will have daily, easy to follow updates. Live Science have created an ultimate kids guide to understanding Coronavirus.
If your child is anxious or upset
Young Minds have a series of worksheets, videos and other activities on a number of mental health topics which you can pick from their menu. You might want to use and adapt these to suit your child’s needs or work through them with your child. While Comforting Anxious Children has suggestions for calming mind, body and spirit.
If you want to comfort and distract your child
Alice N’diaye has created a list of books, songs and other online materials to help children with social and emotional issues. Twinkl have lots of mindfulness colouring sheets available for download. Mighty Moe is a free workbook for anxious children (check first that this is suitable for your child).
Sesame Street has many toolkits for parents to use with younger children. Or try Daniel Tiger’s Neighbourhood for gentle ideas for positive behaviour (also available on Netflix).
Worry Buddies and Boxes
Your child might want to pick a toy to become their Worry Buddy to share their troubles with. Or you could make peg worry dolls. Alternatively cut a hole in the top of a decorated shoebox and post worry notes in it (Worry Box). Some children prefer to use a jar for this. Older primary children might like to keep a diary noting how they feel; or if you have pets your child could share their fears with them. Your child might find writing or drawing how they feel easier than talking. Using a toy, box, jar or diary also means there can be a set time for offloading worries, separate from the rest of the day where your child can focus on positive, calming and confidence building activities.
Keeping In Touch
Writing letters, sharing photos, or making phone calls to older relatives your child isn’t able to see and may be missing will bring comfort to both young and old. Older relatives or friends who are self-isolating may also be able to encourage school work gets done, offer solutions to learning problems or give praise for good work. This can take some of the pressure off parents to have to manage all of your child’s day. You may want to set a time per day where you will check in together and share positive things you’ve seen or done. Or have a go-to adult or friend your child can call if they want to talk about their worries.
Maintain a routine
Your child will be used to the routine of school and being out of that may be very unsettling for them. You can create your own timetable including time for learning, play, meals and other rewards for good work. Depending on your child’s age this might be something you make together, or they create themselves. Putting this somewhere they can see may reassure them. Within your routine you may want to include set wake up, meal and bedtimes; getting dressed rather than staying in pjs; and a clear period where school would normally be in session. This can slide a bit but it will be easier to keep children doing school work if they are in a routine and many children who struggle without structure will need to create one for their own mental wellbeing. It’s fine for you to adapt this depending on your needs, energy and circumstances.
Get them involved!
If you are spending more time at home, your child (depending on their age) can help with housework – cleaning, tidying, laundry, putting things away. Make it into a game or challenge if that might motivate them further. Children may enjoy helping you cook meals, or assisting in the garden if you have one.
Shake the sillies off
Being at home for any period of time is restrictive and the temptation may be to sit in front of screens or spend time gaming. Try putting on music and dancing, a HIIT workout,or daily family exercise time. If you have a garden, putting the kids out in the fresh air can help. If your living space is small then running on the spot and/or hand waving may help shake away frustrations. Remember to have regular breaks for stretching and moving around.
If night time is stress time
You might want to set a wind-down routine with no screen time an hour before bed. A relaxing bath or comforting wash, a story, and music or an audio bedtime story. Mindful Kids have a selection of different sounds to suit all moods.
Consider the conversations you have
Children take on more than we realise, based on things we say (and don’t say), our body language, tone and general behaviour. Although it is hard to stay calm when you are worried, try to avoid putting your fears onto your child. This includes limiting the news they see/hear; explaining what is going on in brief, age-appropriate ways; avoiding telling them about how worried you are. During crises children rely on us to reassure them. This is easier said than done so use the resources listed above and your friends to help look after your own mental health. Encourage your child to always ask you if they hear something that makes them scared or they don’t understand.