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Stress Management for Kids During COVID-19

April 08, 2020

Feeling like we have no control over our lives is unpleasant and challenging. Here are a few ways to help families manage stress during this difficult time.

Teach Proper Hand Hygiene.

Show your kids how they can feel more in control about things that make us nervous. For instance, teach that they can control the spread of the virus by washing their hands and staying at home.

Chat with Family/Friends Virtually.

If they are concerned about friends and family members, they can feel more in control about it by scheduling a virtual chat session to check in with them.

Create a Schedule.

We all feel safer when we have boundaries and expectations for our behavior and daily schedule. Really. Even when your kids fight with you when you set limits, they know that you care and find comfort that you are trying to protect them. So try to create a very basic schedule for what works best for your family right now.

The two major priorities are to structure sleep and meal schedules. Try not to take on any other routine-based goals until there’s some consistency in those two areas. Then you can consider tackling screen time, particularly harmful screen time (e.g., violent video games, excessive social media, non-scientific media outlets for COVID-19 coverage).

Make Time for Play.

Incorporating time for physical activity can help alleviate stress and limit screen time at the same time. Consider that there are many different categories of play, such as creative play, active play, and free play. Depending on the age of your kids and need for supervision, making time for play throughout the day can lessen feelings of cabin fever or complaints of boredom.

Talking to Your Kids About COVID-19

When considering how to talk to your kids about COVID-19, remember to meet them at their developmental level.

For young kids, they may not have many specific questions, but opening up the dialogue is important. For instance, you can lead with,

“Have you noticed that things have been different at home recently? Do you have any questions about that?”

They may not have questions at the moment which is completely fine. You can end with, “Well, if you ever have any questions or want to talk, I’m always here.”

For older kids and teens, setting up opportunities for consistent conversation is really important.

Consider asking them what they think about the current events and how it makes them feel. Share your thoughts and feelings too if you feel comfortable as long as you are able to speak calmly at the time. They don’t expect you to have all of the answers. They want to feel heard. Consider offering to find out answers with them by using reputable websites or media outlets, such as the CDC website.

Managing Expectations – Yours and Theirs

It is completely normal to feel anxious and stressed during a crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is considered a crisis or traumatic event. Therefore, your body and brain may be experiencing unexpected changes in attempt to adjust to our current reality.

Allow yourself time to express your sadness over missed opportunities, anxiety over the unknown, and stress over managing your daily juggling act.

If you don’t give yourself permission to feel and express these emotions, then your family members won’t know that it’s acceptable for them to feel and do the same. Talk with your kids about how you typically cope with stress or struggle to do so. Come up with a list of strategies to try together, such as listening to music, creating art, taking walks, gardening, writing, or reading.

Practice relaxation strategies, such as deep breathing, grounding, or progressive muscle relaxation, when feelings of worry or stress overwhelm you or your kids throughout the day.  Lastly, it is okay to not be okay right now. Take one day, one hour, or one moment at a time to get through this crisis.


About Jessica Tomasula, PhD

Dr. Jessica Tomasula is a licensed pediatric psychologist and manager of behavioral health services at WakeMed Children’s. She provides clinical care to patients and families in WakeMed Physician Practices’ Pediatric Weight Management & Adolescent Bariatric Surgery programs.

Dr. Tomasula’s professional interests include family-based behavioral interventions for health and wellness, parent training, sleep hygiene, adolescent suicide prevention, and pediatric integrated care.

Learn more about Dr. Tomasula and request an appointment here.