3 Steps to Help Kids Handle Anxiety About Coronavirus

With the world in the grips of a novel Coronavirus pandemic it’s a little hard to stay in a calm headspace, so I decided I wanted to take this chance to talk about how we can handle the stress that’s bubbling up. First I’ll go through how you can talk with kids about anxiety they may have, then in a follow up tomorrow I’ll show you how to use those steps for yourself. 

3 steps to help kids handle anxiety about Coronavirus

Both adults and kids are likely feeling stress right now and it only adds to your stress when you see your child struggling. You can take the following steps to talk with your child about Coronavirus (or any stressful situation, really). Remember, you know your child best, so read through and then take what works for you. These steps are based on my training as a ICF certified coach, so they are designed to help your child find a sense of personal power in their situation. The three steps I’m outlining are:

  • Check in with feelings
  • Acknowledge those feelings
  • Ask questions to invite resourcefulness

Here’s how these steps look for talking to your child about Corona virus:

1. Check in with how they’re feeling.

You might have a sense of whether your child is anxious or not (they might not be, and that’s fine!). Either way, look for an opportunity to check in.

Suggestions:
Find a moment when you can be present with your child. Use your knowledge of their personality to choose if you want to ask around siblings or when you have a chance to check in with them alone. You might say something like, “I’m sure you’ve heard about the Coronavirus. How are you feeling about what’s going on?” Keep it simple. Just ask and then stop talking to give them a chance to respond with any thoughts, feelings or questions they might have.

2. Listen and acknowledge

Don’t try and fix it, just listen. You may feel uncomfortable if you’re hearing fears and anxieties. It’s natural to want our kids to feel better! However, one of the best ways you can help your child is through active listening, rather than jumping on what their saying to try and quell those fears. Give them a chance to really offload what’s on their mind.

As you listen, some good active listening replies include:

  • That makes sense.
  • I can understand that.
  • Reasonable.
  • I can imagine.
  • That’s hard.

Listening without trying to fix helps expand your child’s feeling of self trust and validity. Instead of trying to whisk away their emotions by saying something like “It’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.” you’re basically saying, “I hear you and you make sense. I trust you to know your own emotions.” 

As you well know it doesn’t feel good to feel scared or anxious. However we are more than our emotions, we get to make choices about how we respond to our emotions. When you listen in this way it helps your child see that YOU are not scared of their emotions, and you are not getting swept away by those emotions. This provides a sense of safety.

3. Follow up with questions that invite a feeling of capability and resourcefulness.

After listening and letting your child tell you everything they’re feeling right now (a great question to make sure they’ve got it all out is “Anything else?”) then you can follow up with a question that helps them tap into their own capability and resourcefulness. Remember to ask and then leave space for them to think for a while before talking any more or adding suggestions. Depending on what your child has shared with you these questions might include:

  • What are some things you’re doing in your class to take care of this?
  • What do you see people doing to help?
  • Would you like to brainstorm some ways to handle this?
  • I have some information that might help you feel better, can I tell you about it?
  • Would you like a hug?

This may lead to further discussion about steps their school is taking, or questions about what your family is doing. If at any point you feel uncertain, you can always put a ‘placeholder’ in the conversation, for instance “That’s a really good question- I’m gonna research a little and let you know what I find.” You don’t have to have all the answers, but showing that you are able to take actions like researching helps kids feel safe and shows them a way to proactively problem solve.

And finally, I like to wrap up with encouragement and gratitude. This might sound like, “It sound like you’re doing a great job washing hands at school. Thank for chatting with me about this, I like knowing what’s on your mind.” It’s really helpful for kids to know that it’s totally ok and not a burden on you when they share concerns with you. 

The truth is, we can’t pretend this isn’t a scary time. But we can be honest and talk with our kids in a way that allows them to tap into their resilience and capabilities. Sometimes these capabilities are just the capability to reach out for comfort, and at least you can give that. This kind of conversation lets you stay connected with your kids, even when you’re experiencing a stressful situation. If you’d like to chat more, please join the Bounceback Parenting League on Facebook to ask questions or share your thoughts!

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