In an ideal world, us parents could hold all the stress and protect our kids from big scary feelings. But this is not an ideal world. The truth is that (emotionally speaking) kids are far savvier than what they seem. And while they may not be armed with all the facts about the bigger picture, they are absolutely taking in the anxiety from the world around them. Even stress that we ourselves are not consciously aware of. The tricky thing is that kids are not necessarily able to verbalize their anxieties. But rest assured, they will show us if they are off kilter- through their behavior. So how do we recognize if our kids are anxious and what can we do about it?

Common ways kids react to trauma

1. Clinging to their caregivers
2. Having trouble sleeping, falling asleep or having nightmares
3. Regressing to needing their special objects like pacifiers, toys and blankies
4. Bedwetting or sudden loss of toilet training
5. Getting angrier and fighting a lot
6. Playing games where they soothe and protect their dolls and toys
7. Repetitive play where the same game is played over and over and over again
8. Engaging in games they have already grown out of

So how can we help our kids feel better?

Consistency and routine

This kind of forced isolation, like any trauma, can totally mess up routine. So, an important way to realign things is to instill a daily routine in your own home. Wake up at the usual time, get dressed and have breakfast in the normal way. Then create set pockets of time throughout the day to do homework, play outside, eat meals, have screen time, get creative with arts and crafts, free – play and a designated tidy-up time. Keep these slots as regular as possible.

Talk and hug

While parents may be physically present, (in order to manage the stress at large) they may well have checked out emotionally. So, it’s essential to touch base as much as possible and ‘check-in’ with how your child is feeling. You don’t have all the answers right now, and actually that’s ok. The main thing is to acknowledge that things feel scary, that they have lots of worries but that you ‘see’ them on an emotional level.

Keep explanations simple, but do give some information

Any information you give your kids needs to be short, sweet and age appropriate. You wouldn’t tell you kids too much about “how they were made” right? Same goes for Covid-19. But you must tell them something. So, rehearse 2 or 3 age-appropriate sentences about why they can’t go to school and why we don’t know how long this will take. Nothing too scary, but so it sounds important. Then assure them that the other grown-ups in charge (like the government and the doctors) are taking care of the problem and are helping us. This will help them settle and keep communication channels open.

Make sure you look after your own mental health

This is probably the most important one of all. If you’re not okay, they can’t be okay. If you have a therapist that is prepared to do online sessions with you – grab it with both hands. But also make sure you are speaking to level-headed friends on a daily basis. Touch base with family members regularly and only read the most important information in your inbox to minimize outside emotional influence.

The world is grieving, and our kids also live in this world

COVID-19 has triggered enormous grief in the world. We have lost independence, proximity, routine and control. In the same way you would put a bunch of contingency plans in place to manage a death, we need to put things in place to help our families manage this loss as well. While kids are resilient, they will feel this grief as much as we do. The big difference is that they lack an adult mind to process it. So, it is vital that they are given the tools to manage these overwhelming feelings. One baby-step at a time.


This article is based on the below article by Joy and Harold Osofsky:
Joy D. Osofsky, PhD & Harold J. Osofsky. M.D., Ph.D. “Advice for parents of young children during the epidemic” Terrorism and Disaster Coalition for Child and Family Resilience, Tulane University Medical School

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