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Managing Children’s Anxieties About Coronavirus

MARCH 11, 2020

As public concern surrounding the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, mounts, children exposed to information about the virus may begin to feel stress and anxiety. School closures, service changes, quarantines, and other changes to their social support systems may leave children feeling isolated. In addition to undertaking basic preparedness to contain COVID-19, it’s important to present children with information about the virus in a way that is suitable for their age group, and proactively help them cope through this stressful time. The American Psychological Association recommends the following tips to manage anxiety during the coronavirus:

  • Keep in perspective that the number of confirmed infections in the US is extremely low, and that the virus does not necessarily present a threat to you or your family just because it is covered extensively in the media.
  • Keep informed by visiting the CDC website, local or state health agencies, and your family physician. This clinical, curious approach to credible information about the virus will help temper your emotional response to sensationalized media news coverage.
    Communicate age-appropriate information to children, maintain schedules and routines, and monitor your own response (as children will look to your behavior for cues on how to manage their own feelings). The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a Pandemic Flu Fact Sheet that includes information on how to address children’s anxieties, broken down by age. The guide is also available in Spanish.
    Stay connected to social networks, such as friends and family, that offer an outlet for stress and anxiety. Sharing official information and discussing feelings will help them deal with stress and anxiety as well. In the event of quarantine, rely on remote communication resources such as the telephone, social media, and email.
  • Seek help from trained and experienced mental health professionals if you are feeling overwhelming nervousness, lingering sadness, or other prolonged reactions that interfere with your life. There may be disruption to seeking in-person services, so consider contacting mental health providers over the phone and internet. Contact your local mental health associations, health centers, or local professionals to learn what services are in your area.
  • To reduce pandemic stress during and after the crisis, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network further recommends that families should maintain a healthy diet and exercise (and other forms of self care); seek out religious/spiritual help or professional counseling; find outlets for feelings such as writing, drawing, and other relaxing activities; stay engaged with daily activities or projects; and minimize children’s exposure to news and social media outlets that sensationalize news about the virus. They offer a fact sheet for parents and caregivers to help families cope with the Coronavirus Disease, available in English and Chinese and broken down by age group.

Additional resources for parents include the American Academy of Pediatrics, which offers guidelines on Responding to Children’s Emotional Needs in Time of Crisis and SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which offers resources on Recognizing and Treating Childhood Traumatic Stress and Reducing Toxic Stress in Childhood.