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  • Writer's pictureRitu Lamba

5 ways to help children manage COVID anxiety

This is part 2 of a series of blogs to contribute to the bank of credible COVID-related information, evidence for myth-busting, and write-ups about mental health. Read our blog on the effectiveness of AYUSH 64 here. This week we talk about helping children manage anxiety.

The COVID-19 pandemic began over a year ago and fundamentally changed the way we spend our days and interact with people around us. These changes, along with the terrible consequences for our physical health and safety, have taken a toll on everyone’s mental health; and while children are known to be more resilient and adaptable, we cannot ignore how this pandemic is affecting children’s emotional well-being anymore. Here are 5 ways to help children manage anxiety brought on by the extended lockdown and the ever-present virus.

1. Recognise signs that the child is stressed.

Every child will display signs of anxiety and stress differently. As parents, you know your child the best – rely on your instinct and your own understanding of your child first. At the same time, it is useful to keep in mind the following list of key signs that may require additional care:

· Excessive crying or irritation in younger children

· Returning to behaviours they have outgrown (for example, bathroom accidents or bedwetting)

· Excessive worry or sadness

· Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits

· Irritability and “acting out” behaviours 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

2. Learn what the child already knows.

Children might already know and understand some aspects of the pandemic, such as the need to wear masks and to maintain physical distance from others when outdoors. However, they might not know or understand much more, leading to a sense of disorientation and fear. On the other hand, they may also pick up crumbs of information from conversations they have overheard or from social media posts. Not all the information will be accurate or even complete, leading to misconceptions. For this reason, it is important to begin with an open conversation, asking the child to share what she knows and understands about the situation. It is equally important to correct any misconceptions gently. Encourage the child to ask questions and share their fears.

3. Validate the child’s feelings.

As parents, we are inclined to protect children from all things bad, including their own feelings of fear. However, this may not be the best route to take. Instead, let the child know that it is completely okay to feel scared, anxious or angry. Share that you feel this way too. Children may also experience mixed feelings – an introverted child may understand the gravity of the situation but might feel grateful for the opportunity to study from home. Open conversations without judgement are the best way to understand what the child is going through. Let them know that their feelings are valid and that your conversations are safe spaces.

4. Provide action steps and routines.

Anxiety often stems from not having control over a situation. As adults, we may have many more opportunities to control our routines and our free time. Some of us may cook in our free time to feel more in control, while others may volunteer with relief organisations. However, children have much less control over their schedule and activities. Especially in these unprecedented times, it is important to co-create schedules as per what the child needs so that feelings of anxiety reduce. Depending on the child, they may need coping mechanisms, such as fixed video call times with friends and family. Contributing to relief efforts is another way to feeling more in control, so you could suggest activities such as assisting with preparing and packing meals, or writing letters and notes to be sent to patients.

5. Ensure a focus on health and hygiene.

Physical health and hygiene should be highest on the list of priorities. Develop a regular routine for physical exercise. While this may be tough for children (and even most adults), help the child understand that a healthy immunity is our best defence against the virus, and regular physical exercise is the best way to boost immunity. Create a schedule according to what the child enjoys the most, be it dance, aerobics or yoga. Communicate clearly to the child the importance of hygiene routines, such as washing your hands, sneezing/coughing into your elbows, wearing a mask and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others when outdoors. Help the child understand the reason for these practices as well, so that they know not just the what but also the why.

Honesty, open conversations and co-created schedules should go a long way in helping children deal with their feelings of anxiety. Please reach out to professional mental health experts in case you feel that your child is struggling and will benefit from talking to a certified professional.

What are some ways that you deal with the anxiety brought on by the pandemic? As a parent, what strategies have helped your child manage anxiety? Please let us know in the comments, so other parents may benefit from your experiences.

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