With a constant stream of news updates, statistics and opinions about Coronavirus (COVID-19), it is likely the children in our lives will be struggling with some degree of coronavirus anxiety.
This can be an incredibly worrying time for children. While there are helpful resources available, it can be difficult to communicate this information in a way that makes sense and helps reduce their coronavirus fears. The lack of clarity about the situation and near future may also heighten feelings of isolation, confusion and helplessness.
Helping children cope with Coronavirus fears
The good news is that while we cannot always control situations or their outcomes, we can control how they make us feel. Using psychological insight, this article suggests four ways to address these feelings and help children regain a sense of reassurance, control and stability in their lives.
Coronavirus fears: framing change for children as gains and losses
During our lives, we will experience many changes. While some people adapt to these changes quickly, others can really struggle. To help with this process, it can be useful to view the present Coronavirus situation as a combination of gains and losses.
With constant updates from the news and social media, children can quickly become lost in the negatives of the Covid-19 pandemic. Try instead to focus on any positives and essentially consider: what did we gain? For instance, while children will not see their friends at school (negative), they will spend more time with their family (positive).
If a child is struggling to identify any positives, ask them what they would like to happen. It might seem insignificant, but it could influence their perspective of the experience. This small shift towards seeking the positives in stressful situations can reinstate a sense of gratitude and reassurance.
Regaining control and stability over anxiety
When scary things happen, we can feel powerless no matter whether we are nine or thirty-nine. One way to feel better is to identify things that are still in our control.
A simple way to address this would be to invite the child to choose an activity for the day or give them permission to wear whatever they like during their homeschooling days. You could also encourage stability by starting a new project that the child can look forward to every day. This could be something like growing a plant or keeping a ‘stay at home’ scrapbook.
Through inviting the child to be an active participant in their own lives, parents can foster a sense of responsibility and control.
Externalising fears about Covid-19
Children often struggle to verbalise their worries and so while they may be experiencing distress, they might not be able to communicate this clearly. In this case, it is important to find an easier way for the child to share their fears about Coronavirus.
For some children, this may involve drawing the virus, or the worries that surround it. Having this visual representation can help to form a more concrete understanding of what is going on for them.
Other children might experience anxiety around the word ‘Coronavirus’. Instead of avoiding the topic completely, ask the child to come up with a word to replace this. This can make topic seem less threatening and help the child to open up about how it is impacting them.
While these techniques do not diminish the severity of the situation, they can help children to feel safe enough to approach it in their own way.
A final note about anxiety and Coronavirus
While it is important to be aware of the current situation, both adults and children can quickly find themselves trapped in a vicious stress cycle. Therefore, try to minimise how much time children and parents spend watching or listening to the news and social media.
We often learn health behaviours through observing others, so use this as an opportunity to demonstrate healthy coping strategies to the children and young people around you.
Finally, while there is a lot of pressure for children to keep up with educational activities, remember that this is also a unique time to show kindness to our children and actively seek the positives in each day.
Counselling services from The Spark
The Spark continues to provide telephone and online video counselling services during the Coronavirus outbreak for children and young people. These services are also available to adults.
Sara O'Dowd MA, MSc, MBPsS
Research Co-ordinator - The Spark
Sara is a member of the British Psychological Society (BPS). After completing a Masters in Clinical Health Psychology, she joined The Spark as research co-ordinator. Sara is currently completing a Diploma in Relational Counselling, specialising in working with children and young people. Sara’s research interests include the relationship between physical and mental health, the impact of communication and addressing mental health problems in children and young people.
Useful links for parents
- Ted Ed – engaging educational videos
- Duolingo – learn languages for free
- Glasgow Science Centre – home science lesson for all ages
- BBC Bitesize
- PE with Joe – daily 30-minute physical activity videos for children (and grown-ups too!) with Joe Wicks, The Body Coach
- Cosmic kids yoga – fun, themed yoga videos for kids.
Entertainment & Activities
- Cbeebies Games – games for young children
- The Imagination Tree – arts and crafts for young children
- Audible – selection of free audiobooks for kids
- Blockly – learn computer programming skills for free
- How to talk to children about Coronavirus
- Childline – useful and accessible advice on Coronavirus and mental health
- Book of Beasties – early intervention card game for mental health
- Mind – information about Coronavirus and mental health