Many children experience fear or anxiety when they hear about world events or stressful things. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one out of every eight children is affected by an anxiety disorder. As a parent, you want to keep your child as protected and safe as possible. But what can you do to support them in uncertain times?
Here are some tips for helping your child remain calm and secure when things seem scary to them.
Encourage deep breathing
While it may seem basic, the way we breathe has a direct effect on our stress levels. Deep breathing brings more oxygen to the brain, encouraging relaxation. Helping your child learn a deep breathing technique teaches them a coping strategy they can use anywhere, any time. Show them how to breathe in and count to two in their head, hold their breath for three counts, then breathe out while counting to four. You can do the counting for them if needed.
Have open and honest conversations
Your child will have questions about the event that’s making them anxious, and it’s important for them to know that you will always listen to them and empathize with their feelings. Encourage your child to talk to you about how they feel, and answer any questions as honestly as you can, considering their age. Be truthful, but focus on alleviating your child’s immediate fears. Let them know that, above all, you love them and will always take care of them.
Limit your child’s exposure to the news
The constant news cycle can cause increased fear and anxiety in adults, not to mention in children who lack context to understand. Children may believe that a situation is scarier or more immediate than it really is, because of how often they might hear about it. Try to reduce your child’s exposure to the news to alleviate these fears. If you do tune in for an update, keep it brief, and be available in case your child has any questions about what they’ve seen.
Model calm behavior
If your child sees that you’re not scared, they’ll feel reassured. Even if you are worried yourself, make sure that your child sees you behaving in a composed and positive manner. It’s okay if your child sees that you’re concerned, but explain your feelings in age-appropriate language for your child, and remain in control. Try to stick to a familiar routine as much as possible.
For more tips on helping support your child in uncertain times, read or listen to an interview with child development psychologist Dr Judith Bryant on talking with your child about coronavirus.