A few FAQs regarding children, emotions, and covid-19
Q: How can we reduce our children’s anxiety regarding covid-19?
A: It is important to talk to your children about the virus, as knowledge generally reduces anxiety and assists children to feel more in control. There’s a great resource from Mindhearts (see attachment) which explains covid-19 as “cousins with the common cold/flu”. It allows you to talk about how the virus travels, the symptoms it might bring with it, open discussion regarding how your child feels about the virus and the impacts of this on them, and how you can reduce the spread and stay protected. It is important to use age-appropriate facts from reputable sources, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), and the Commonwealth Health authorities, but to be mindful of how much information you give at once.
Q: What about specific worries regarding older or high-risk friends and family members?
A: Your child may also have worries about their older family members, such as grandparents, or those with health concerns, catching the virus and possible death. It could be helpful to explain that old and sick people sometimes pass away, however old and healthy people are more likely to be okay. It may also be helpful to talk about the precautions your family can take, such as social distancing/isolating at this time, and the ways in which your children can assist older family members to be safe at this time, such as dropping off food and making video calls to stay connected. Helping our children to feel empowered to do something that adds value is really important when trying to increase their confidence and coping skills.
Q: What are some of the psychological concerns that may arise from the stress surrounding covid-19 for our children?
A: Anxiety and stress are most likely to occur. In addition to this, pre-existing mental health issues, such as mood disorders, may reappear. OCD like behaviours may also emerge, due to the emphasis on handwashing, cleanliness, and germs. If at any stage you are concerned that your child’s behaviours are no longer healthy, please speak up and raise this concern with your child (if appropriate), your GP or your child’s psychologist.
Q: What can anxiety/depression look like in children?
A: Children often express their emotions through their behaviours. You might observe an increase in controlling and/or defiant behaviours, or notice changes in appetite, sleep patterns, increased restlessness/fidgeting, repetitive questioning, increased focus on the news or social media, becoming withdrawn, and/or no longer finding pleasure in previously enjoyed activities.
Q: If we observe any of these behaviours, what should we do?
A: Check-in with your children regarding their feelings; what they are enjoying and what may be worrying/upsetting them. A great way to allow your children the opportunity to express their feelings is through ‘highlight, lowlight, and proud of’ discussions. Here, each family member shares something good, not good, and something they are proud of from their day.
Allow time, without pressure for your child to share their thoughts. Often this works best when you are not face to face with them. Perhaps go for a long walk, head out for a drive or play some basketball in the back yard. Create space for conversations to occur on the child’s terms wherever possible. Another way is to schedule a time to have a family chat or a 1:1 chat, with the virus as a designated theme. For example, “Okay kiddos, after dinner tonight, let’s all have a hot choccie and chat about what’s going on with this virus and how you’re all feeling about it.” If you notice concerning themes or possible mental health concerns, seek professional support from your GP, psychologist or counsellor.
Q: What are the formal mental health support options?
A: Psychology practices are continuing to support their clients through the use of Telehealth (phone/video sessions) during the covid-19 pandemic. Online and phone services, such as those through Beyondblue, Headspace, and Raising Children Network will also continue operating.
Q: What are some tips to keep ourselves as mentally healthy as possible during this time?
A: Maintaining routine and structure will be important to provide a sense of normalcy and reduce anxiety, as well as assist with the transition back to school when the time comes. You can do this by continuing to follow daily routines such as going to bed and waking up, having breakfast/lunch at the same time, completing age-appropriate chores such as making beds, packing up, feedings pets, and trying your best to make time for physical, calming, educational, play-based, and family activities. However, please don’t feel guilty if you are also trying to manage work requirements or other family needs. Just do your best. These are trying times and keeping the peace will also help the family unit.
Q: How can we manage time together when external activities (sports & clubs) aren’t on?
A: While many afterschool and extracurricular activities will be put on hold, there are lots of ways to spend your time and ensure your family are still being active! You could create obstacle courses/treasure hunts in the backyard, play games, create art projects, and do mindfulness activities. You can continue to go for walks around the block and run around in the park to exert energy. If you can’t get out, star jumps, jumping on the trampoline, ‘windmills’, and other ‘heavy work’ activities which engage big muscle groups will assist with regulation. There are a number of great apps and youtube exercise videos that families can follow and are quite fun and engaging. The Nike training app is one such example.
Q: How can we support our family and friends, through this time?
A: Stay connected! Reach out to family members and friends through FaceTime, video/voice calls, sharing photos, setting up video play dates for your children etc. Continue to check-in with others, listen to, and validate their feelings and thoughts. You can also support each other by recognising when family members may require a break, and set ‘quiet time’ where children and adults can engage in independent mindfulness activities such colouring, listening to music, lego etc. While some things are different, many things are staying the same. Emphasise these constants for your children, such as continuing to have love, safety, and support around them.
Please follow this link for more suggestions on managing anxiety regarding Covid-19: