Anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic is common among young children, and parents may wonder how to quell those concerns.
An expert from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston has some advice.
“Parents should have a clear idea of what their thoughts are about the virus and get on the same page as their partner,” said Laurel Williams, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
“When parents are not sure what they think and feel, it can cause anxiety and confusion for the child. That goes for double if partners don’t agree,” Williams said in a college news release.
Parents should ask children how they feel and what they think about the COVID pandemic, but avoid questions such as, “Are you worried you’re going to get sick?” she advised.
Better questions are: “What do you think of masks or hand-washing? What comes to mind when you put your mask on or don’t put your mask on, or when you wash your hands or don’t wash your hands?”
If children show anxious behavior linked to the pandemic — such as repetitive hand-washing — parents should have an age-appropriate conversation with their kids about a new pandemic safety strategy for the family, Williams suggested.
She explained that many anxiety treatments involve a very specific technique of actively avoiding what your brain is telling you to do. “This can be hard and initially lead to a bigger display of anxiety, and that is the reason for discussing in advance,” she said.
If you tell your child, “We will wash our hands one time before we eat our food, but that’s the only time,” they may initially react negatively, but should move on a few minutes later with the new family plan. Each time after this, meltdowns should lessen, and the issue will eventually extinguish, she said.
If children get distressed trying to follow the new family plan, they might be experiencing a level of anxiety where parents might consider seeking professional help, Williams noted.
As large events and extracurricular events resume, families who plan on attending or enrolling their children in activities should assess their family’s risk, Williams said.
Parents should talk with their children in advance about how the family will handle events and the rules. Children should be allowed to express their choices, she said, as long as they aren’t counter to the family or venue rules.
For more on children’s mental health during COVID-19, see the American Academy of Pediatrics.
SOURCE: Baylor College of Medicine, news release, April 20, 2022
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