Easing Children’s Anxiety During the Coronavirus Pandemic

May 19, 2020

Adults aren’t the only ones who may be feeling more anxious than usual due to COVID-19.

Many children are as well, according to reporting done by NPR.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

Dr. Elise Fallucco, Chief & Associate Professor with the Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at UF Health Jacksonville/UF College of Medicine appeared on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross Tuesday to explain why.

“We're definitely seeing an increase in anxiety [in children],” she said. “Think about it as adults, and when we feel our own anxiety. The world has been turned upside down. We don't know what's coming next. And it's hard to predict what's happening in the future. And so, especially for kids who tend to be more warriors, or to like to have some sort of control in their lives, this, has been up-ending for them. It's been completely difficult. So a lot, a lot more anxiety and stress for sure.”

Fallucco also shared some advice on how parents can help their children manage anxiety, noting it’s important to for parents to cope with their own anxiety first: 

“I'm sure you've heard the old adage, which is like put your own oxygen mask on first. And it’s important for parents to take care of themselves. Kids, especially preschool age kids and elementary school age kids really look to their parents as an example. And they pay attention to us to figure out how  we are responding to this. So if we look like We're incredibly stressed and running around like crazy, then they're going to feel that stress and experience that so you know, the first thing to do is make sure you're taking care of yourself managing your own anxiety, especially when you're around the kids, getting exercise, getting outdoors, and just trying to stay calm yourself.”

Related: Listen to the full interview with Fallucco

Next, she says parents should be really patient with their children, and acknowledge what they are going through, since so much in their lives has probably changed in the last few weeks:

“All of a sudden, where there was structure there is none any longer. And they've lost touch with their friends and they've lost the ability to do the things that really help them relieve stress, like everything from playing outside during recess to, you know, participating in team sports and getting socially connected. So I think it's important for us to realize that as parents and just validate their own feelings... talk to them about what they are feeling, and what it’s like doing school from home instead of in real school. What are the good parts and what are the bad parts? And just validate that, ‘Yeah, this is a really hard time.’ And then also empower them, ‘Yes, this is hard. And you are tough, you are strong and you are resilient. And we’re going to get through this together.’”

Fallucco also recommends trying to create a daily routine and predictability for children, which should incorporate ways for them to relax and release stress, such as through play.

She said that even though we are practicing social distancing, it’s important that children are not isolated, and that parents encourage their kids to reach out virtually to other family members and friends.

Fallucco suggested that parents keep an eye out for more severe cases of anxiety, which can sometimes manifest itself via physical symptoms:

“We’d get worried about any kid that's having excessive persistent crying or irritability, or anger or worries that are interfering with their ability to sleep, affecting their appetite or affecting their energy. And then sometimes kids, you know, kids who are anxious, they'll express their anxiety or stress through their bodies. And so we'll see, a lot of headaches, a lot of stomach aches, that we can't explain other ways.”

In these instances, she advises families to try to speak with a mental health professional over the phone or via a virtual visit.

Heather Schatz can be reached at hschatz@wjct.org or on Twitter at @heatherschatz.