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Reducing Stress and Building Resiliency in children during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Lauren Brown, MFT School Program Coordinator K-8

Many of us are now sheltering in place and our children are home with us and are likely facing the same anxieties we are. Fear of the unknown, lack of control over an ever-changing situation and a profound disruption to our daily lives, the likes which we have never seen before, are all simultaneously creating feelings of anxiety, fear and stress.

This is not the time to shut down or to not communicate with our kids to “protect them”. They are already impacted. Kids can develop anxiety vicariously by watching and listening to their parents experience symptoms of anxiety. And while stress is an inevitable part of life, managing it improperly can lead to unhealthy habits and behavior that can upend family stability.

Research shows that age appropriate, open communication is far better at easing fears than keeping kids in the dark or “protecting them”.

 Ask your kids how they are feeling. 

If they are younger, and don’t have a lot of experience talking about how they feel, have them describe their feelings using colors or animals. Sometimes it is easier for younger kids to express themselves using external things. An example would be “what color is your worry today?” or, “ you seem super angry. What animal is your grumpy or your angry today?”. Art is another great tool for younger kids to express their feelings. Drawing or coloring how they feel is a great way to name the feeling and also an effective stress relieving technique!

It’s OK to tell kids you don’t have all the answers and that you don’t know what’s going to happen next, but you can reassure them about the things that are in your control. 

Also, keeping somewhat consistent routines is helpful. I know this situation is anything but routine, but kids typically do better when they have some consistency. There are a lot of sample schedules floating around on the internet that breakdown screen time, exercise time, family game time, etc. that your family may find helpful.

How do I know if my kids have anxiety? 

Symptoms of Anxiety include:

  • Sleep Disturbance
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness or “feeling funny”
  • Stomach Aches
  • Out of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Inability to focus
  • Unusually clingy
  • Fearful

Some helpful things to say to calm an anxious child include:

  • “Lets take a deep breath together”
  • “how big is your worry”
  • “What color is your worry”
  • “this feeling will pass”
  • “what do you want to tell your worry”’
  • “tell me about it”
  • “what do you need from me”

Coping with stress is a very important self-care tool that everyone should be practicing right now, and it is particularly important to model this to kids. These skills are important all of the time, not just during this pandemic. The greatest thing about coping techniques is many of them are free and can be practiced safely at home during social distancing. 

So, what are coping techniques? Anything that can be done to make us feel better.

Examples include: exercising, playing with pets, journaling, drawing, painting, reading a book, vegging out with our favorite TV show, enjoying our favorite food, talking to a trusted friend, playing a game and so on. 

The important thing about coping is that these things need to be done consciously and in control. Any of the aforementioned activities can turn into negative things and/or addictions if done to excess. (think over-exercising, over-eating, or numbing out with too many video games and/or TV).

Use this time to connect and communicate with your family. Don’t be afraid to get outdoors and into nature. 

Re-establish (or establish) family meetings, game nights and movie nights. 

Find creative ways to keep your kids entertained and remind them that it’s ok to have feelings, to be scared, angry or frustrated and take this opportunity to teach them healthy ways of confronting those feelings.

It's normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during a crisis. Talking to people y
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