Easing the Fear in our Youth

Guest post by Mary Costa, P.E. Teacher at Martha Reid Leadership Academy in Mansfield ISD.

COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways we never would have imagined. Discussions about the virus dominate the news. Many schools are now closed for the rest of the school year and continuing their distance learning. Children’s favorite activity centers are now closed. Sports events, concerts and movie theater showings are canceled. So, it is not surprising that many of our youth are feeling more stressed and anxious these days.

Fortunately, there are things we can do to help our kids cope. Children take their cues from the adults who care for them. If you are anxious, then it is very hard to calm your kids. If you are more relaxed, then it is easier to soothe their fears. Here are tips from the Child Mind Institute’s clinicians to help calm fears, manage stress and keep the peace.

• Be a role model. Children will react to and follow your reactions. They learn from your example.

• Be aware of how you talk about COVID-19. Your discussion about COVID-19 can increase or decrease your child’s fear. If true, remind your child that your family is healthy, and you are going to do everything within your power to keep loved ones safe and well. Carefully listen or have them draw or write out their thoughts and feelings and respond with truth and reassurance.

• Explain social distancing. Children probably do not fully understand why parents/guardians are not allowing them to be with friends. Tell your child that your family is following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which include social distancing. Social distancing means staying away from others until the risk of contracting COVID-19 is under control. Showing older children the “flatten the curve” charts will help them grasp the significance of social distancing. Explain that while we don’t know how long it will take to “flatten the curve” to reduce the number of those infected, we do know that this is a critical time—we must follow the guidelines of health experts to do our part.

• Demonstrate deep breathing. Deep breathing is a valuable tool for calming the nervous system. Do breathing exercises with your children.

• Focus on the positive. Celebrate having more time to spend as a family. Make it as fun as possible. Do family projects. Organize belongings, create masterpieces. Sing, laugh, and go outside, if possible, to connect with nature and get needed exercise. Allow older children to connect with their friends virtually.

• Establish and maintain a daily routine. Keeping a regular schedule provides a sense of control, predictability, calm, and well-being. It also helps children and other family members respect others’ need for quiet or uninterrupted time and when they can connect with friends virtually.

• Identify projects that might help others. This could include: writing letters to the neighbors or others who might be stuck at home alone or to healthcare workers; sending positive messages over social media; or reading a favorite children’s book on a social media platform for younger children to hear.

• Offer lots of love and affection.

In this time of the unknow, our youth need us more then ever. Reassurance from adults and loved ones can go a long way toward calming them. Let kids know that even though there is still much to learn about COVID-19, it is up to the adults to figure it out, and they do not need to worry. Stay positive. Talk about all the things people are doing together to help each other and stay healthy. Talking and honesty is the Key!

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