Published on in Health Tip of the Week
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted our everyday lives in a way most children have never experienced. Suddenly pulled out of school and unable to see their friends, children and teens felt isolated, anxious and even depressed.
The roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines for children 5 and older, improved hospitalization rates and our reopened society have ushered in a renewed sense of safety. Many children, however, are experiencing continued, or even increased anxiety as a result of social isolation.
In an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Katie Lockwood, MD, MEd, attending physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), reflects on the increasing rates of pediatric anxiety.
“We did such a good job of teaching our children about preventing COVID-19 that measures like social distancing and masking became normal,” she writes. “As pandemic precautions relax, it can be hard for children to re-adjust to this new normal when the pandemic had become their version of normal.”
Fortunately, there are ways that you can help your worrying child through this transition. Help manage anxiety with these tips from Yesenia Marroquin, PhD, clinical psychologist in the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at CHOP.
Tips to support your child when they're feeling anxious
Your child’s level of anxiety may shift according to their age and developmental stage. The important thing is to adopt a supportive stance and help manage any associated worries.
You can help your worrying child by:
- Listening to their fears and validating their feelings. Hold space for your child’s worries, and ensure they feel comfortable expressing themselves to you.
- Talking through any extreme compulsions your child has – such as repeatedly washing their hands. Help your child understand what they are feeling when they do these activities and how these excessive behaviors are negatively impacting their lives.
- If you notice your child is spending a lot of time preoccupied with worry – and seeking frequent reassurance from you – it may be helpful to plan "worry time." This is dedicated time (generally 5-10 minutes a day) when your child can express their worries freely, while you validate their distress and express confidence that – together – you will be able to manage whatever comes next. Redirect your child when they want to talk about their worries outside of “worry time.” Try not to have “worry time” right before bed; instead, schedule it before an activity your child enjoys so it's easier to transition from worrying to having fun.
If your child’s anxiety begins to interfere with their ability to function, it’s important that you seek guidance from your pediatrician.
Model healthy coping behaviors
This is still a confusing time, and our kids aren’t the only ones struggling with uncertainty. In order to help your child manage their anxiety, you must first recognize and validate your own worries and fears.
“This isn’t about faking a positive attitude,” says Dr. Marroquin. “This is about letting your kids know that you recognize your worry, and you are caring for your feelings appropriately and focusing on what you can control. While we cannot control what emotions arise within us, we can influence what we do with our emotions, including how intense the emotions become and how much we allow our emotions to drive the bus of our actions.”
When you feel stressed, you can model healthy coping behaviors for your children by participating in a soothing activity, such as drinking a cup of tea or going for a walk. These behaviors will allow your brain to stop ruminating and reset focus on the things you can control.