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Helping Children Deal with Stress in the Time of COVID-19
Apr 2, 2020 / Pediatrics

By Michelle Dalal, MD
Reliant Medical Group Pediatrics

Dealing with change can be hard for everyone. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools, affected workplaces, and drastically changed our daily routines. Adults, as well as children, have had a hard time dealing with the stress the crisis has created. That’s why you should be aware of the typical signs of stress* in children and teenagers including:

  • Excessive crying, clinging, and not wanting to be alone
  • Feelings of worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits,
  • Irritability and “acting out” behaviors
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Loss of interest in activities enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain
  • Substance use such as vaping or marijuana

If you are seeing signs of stress in your family, it’s important to take action. Here are some ideas which can help:

Get Active! – Whether it’s a family walk, bike ride or hike, physical activity can help reduce stress and help burn off excess energy. So throw around a ball, play Frisbee, or try another activity. Even if it’s raining, you and your children can grab an umbrella and go for a walk.

Get Creative! – Plan a treasure hunt or cupcake wars at home. Spend some time coloring, painting or drawing. Find some chalk and start making pictures on the sidewalk. Find those home projects the family can help complete.

Go outdoors! – Explore the neighborhood. Watch the birds. Go out at night and stare at the night sky. Breathe in the fresh air. Have an outdoor picnic in your back yard. Just being outside can often improve people’s moods.

Keep in mind that children look to adults for guidance and support, especially during difficult times. How you manage your own anxiety will have a big effect on your children. Finding ways to calm your stress will help show your children how to manage the difficult situations that are happening around them.

Here are some more tips that can help your family through the COVID-19 crisis:

Empower your kids. Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about COVID-19. Let them know that you are concerned but we all have things we can do to stay healthy and work through this crisis.

Schedule activities. With school not in session, create a daily schedule for the family of learning and fun activities. Allow kids to create unique activities and help plan out each day.

Wash hands. Encourage your children to sing a song for 20 seconds while washing hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. Do it regularly.

Eat well – Look online for healthy recipes. Eating healthy keeps our bodies strong to fight off illness.

Don’t miss sleep – Having the family practice good sleeping habits helps everyone get the rest they need to keep their immune system strong.

Just Breathe – Deep breathing helps reduce stress. Show your children how to take deep breaths so everyone can feel calm. Let them practice deep breathing with you.

Allow Expression – Let your children express their emotions about the changes and disappointments they have had to deal with. It’s important to not minimize their fears and frustrations. Many children will be confused and even angry about the changes that have affected their lives. Encourage them to keep a journal to write down or draw out their thoughts.

Be positive – Tell your children about the good things that are happening in this crisis – how the earth is seeing less pollution and that people and communities are coming together to help others. Talk about volunteering and other ways they can help.

Stay connected – Write letters, use Facetime, call people on the phone. Reaching out to friends, family, and others during this time helps everyone feel we are not in this alone. It can be difficult not to see grandparents or other family members. Let your kids know they will see them soon and that they can still connect in different ways.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly every single person across the globe. Empower yourself to stay positive and help your family and community in any way you can.

*If you believe stress is negatively affecting your child, especially for an extended period of time, you should talk to your child’s healthcare provider. They can arrange counseling to support your child during this crisis.

Helping Children Deal with Stress in the Time of COVID-19

About Michelle Dalal, MD

As a mother herself, pediatrician Dr. Michelle Dalal has learned a lot from raising her two children. “You learn a lot as a parent, particularly in the infancy and toddler stage on how to deal with things,” she explains. “I think being a parent makes a big difference in terms of how you treat pediatric patients. I get a lot of questions about immunizations, I get a lot of questions about how to make sure a child’s diet remains...

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