April 1, 2020
How to Successfully Manage Anxiety While Building Resilience in Kids During a Crisis
By Dinah Whitton
Adults and children alike are struggling with anxious thoughts during this unprecedented time in our history. While this is completely normal, how we deal with anxiety is critical to the health and well being of children.
Understanding how anxiety works and what to do about it during a crisis will help to build resilience.
Adjusting to the effects of the Covid-19 epidemic has naturally invoked fear, uncertainty and apprehension in many children. It’s particularly unsettling when children hear trusted adults expressing deep concern without definitive answers toward a solution. However, this is an ideal time to help them effectively cope with their anxious feelings. Allowing children to express their feelings of frustration and disappointment is a healthy way to build resilience. Being strong in tough times does not include suppressing emotions in an effort to illustrate inner strength. Clinical Counsellor and Developmentalist Dr. Deborah MacNamara says, “It isn’t the absence of vulnerable feelings that make us strong, but our capacity to embrace the ones that we have.” Children have a greater chance of becoming truly resilient when they have the opportunity to express themselves during challenging times. Dealing with these feelings directly helps us to focus on the things we can control rather than stressing over the things we can’t.
Renowned clinical psychologist Dr. Gordon Neufeld defines resilience as the “capacity to return to optimal functioning after stress or to thrive under duress.”
As parents, you have an essential role in helping your children thrive despite the uncertainty. Even if your kids have difficulty articulating their anxious feelings, there are various ways to support them.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to help your family manage anxiety and build resilience:
Anxiety in children may not be as obvious as it is in adults. Children will act out how they feel rather than tell you directly. Since this is completely normal behaviour in times of crisis, take some time to simply observe your children. Watch how they play and interact with family members. Being isolated at home may cause your children to feel anxious which could result in unusual behaviour. Exercise some patience through consistent words of reassurance, love and lots of hugs.
Speak the truth in an age appropriate manner, be concise and move on. Sugar coating the truth will merely promote insecurity and anxiety particularly when reality is eventually exposed. Be honest and admit you don’t have all the answers, but reassure your children of your unchanging love for them in uncertain times.
Establish Flexible Routines
Even though many kids complain about daily chores or schoolwork, the truth is, they really do benefit from routines. Cries of boredom during a pandemic are likely linked to the uncertain future.
According to Child Psychologist and Parenting Coach, Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, “Children use structure and routine to feel safe and comfortable—they need a predictable routine to help them navigate the world.”
Establishing a daily routine with room for changes will serve as a subtle reminder of the security they have at home. Always plan time for fun and games, individually and collectively, so this time of family isolation will result in positive memories.
Limited Media Coverage
Despite the abundance of updates throughout the day, be sure to minimize your family’s exposure to the news. Having access to 24 hour news does not mean the family room television should remain on that channel throughout the day. Even the background noise of the latest updates can have an impact, especially on young minds. Choose one time of the day to watch the news followed by a family friendly show or activity to help switch gears to something lighter.
Embrace the Break
The world has changed in a short period of time, so we can’t expect everything in our home to be completely normal. Fortunately, you do have control over what happens in your own home. Quality time is always something every family can benefit from, so take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity. Play games, go for walks (while practicing social distancing according to the recommendations of local authorities), go through old photo albums, dance, sing, laugh and relax together.
Unplug & Reconnect
When in doubt, doing nothing together is always better. There’s nothing worse than being alone in a crowded room. Despite the abundance of free resources suddenly available, being too connected can create other problems. Scheduling a daily “unplugged hour” can help each family member stay connected with one another rather than getting lost in a screen and suffering in silence. Maximize your time away from all screens and positively engage with one another to further create a sense of belonging and security.