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Things you can do

Actions for parents/carers.
Parent using wooden blocks
© University of East Anglia

There are a number of practical things you can do as a parent to help reassure young people during this difficult time.

Below are a few examples to assist you.

Emphasize strengths, hope, and positivity

Children need to feel safe, secure, and positive about their present and future. Adults can help by focusing children’s attention on stories about how people come together, find creative solutions to difficult problems, and overcome adversity during the epidemic. Talking about these stories can be healing and reassuring to children and adults alike.

Increase children’s self-efficacy

Self-efficacy is the sense of having agency or control – an especially important trait during times of fear and uncertainty. Children often feel more in control when they can play an active role in helping themselves, their families, and their communities. For example, children can help by following safety guidelines (e.g., washing their hands), preparing for home confinement (e.g., helping to cook and freeze food), or volunteering in the community (e.g., writing letters or creating art for older adults or sick friends, sharing extra supplies with a neighbour).

Social distancing should not mean social isolation

Children – especially young children – need quality time with their caregivers and other important people in their lives. Social connectedness improves children’s chances of showing resilience to adversity. Creative approaches to staying connected are important (e.g., writing letters, online video chats).

Make plans

In the face of events that are scary and largely out of our control, it’s important to be proactive about what you can control. Making plans helps you visualize the near future. How can your children have virtual play dates? What can your family do that would be fun outside? What are favourite foods you can cook during this time? Make lists that children can add to. Seeing you problem solve in response to this crisis can be instructive and reassuring for children.

Remember your own mental health

Sometimes the path of least resistance is the right path. Remember to be reasonable and kind to yourself. We all want to be our best parenting selves as much as we can, but sometimes that best self is the one that says, “Go for it,” when a child asks for more time on the iPad.

Professional help

Lastly, seek professional help if children show signs of trauma that do not resolve relatively quickly. Emotional and behavioural changes in children are to be expected during a pandemic, as everyone adjusts to a new sense of normal. If children show an ongoing pattern of emotional or behavioural concerns (e.g. nightmares, excessive focus on anxieties, increased aggression, regressive behaviours, or self-harm) that do not resolve with supports, professional help may be needed.

Many mental health providers have the capacity to provide services via “telehealth” (i.e., therapy provided by telephone or an online platform) when in-person social contact must be restricted.

© University of East Anglia
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Anxiety in Children and Young People during COVID-19

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