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May 2020

Parenting During a Crisis: Signs of Anxiety in Children

Coping with the COVID-19 outbreak is hard for children, too. And while they tend to have a stronger reaction to stress than adults, kids are less likely to express themselves with words. This means your child’s behavior is often the key to knowing how well he or she is adjusting. Signs of anxiety may be a clue that your child needs extra support.

Watch for signs

Everyone responds to stress differently. Children with anxiety may:

  • Eat less or much more

  • Experience headaches or pain that can’t be explained

  • Have nightmares and trouble falling or staying asleep

  • Not enjoy activities they liked before

  • Seem excessively sad or worried

Plus, infants and children ages 2 and younger may cry or want to be held more often. Those ages 3 to 6 may display outgrown behaviors, such as:

  • Fearing separation from parents or caregivers

  • Having tantrums or crying more often, especially when it seems unusual for the situation

  • Wetting their clothes or bed

Between ages 7 and 10, children are likely to have problems paying attention and may either avoid the subject of COVID-19 or want to talk about it continually. Preteens and teens (ages 11 to 18) may:

  • Argue/fight more with siblings and adults

  • Avoid schoolwork

  • Use tobacco, alcohol, or drugs

Over time, reactions should lessen for most children. However, if you have any concerns or questions about these or other behaviors, talk with your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional.

Ways to cope

Kids are sensitive to the grown-ups around them. Try to set a good example. Manage your own stress in healthy ways, such as eating well and exercising. You can also help your child by:

  • Being mindful of how you talk about COVID-19. Don’t watch or listen to its coverage too often—or with young children nearby. Share basic facts about COVID-19. Use age-appropriate language to answer questions and correct rumors.

  • Offering reassurance. You could say something like, “I know this is hard. It’s OK to feel upset” or “Doctors, nurses, and other people are working hard to help everyone stay safe.”

  • Following your prior routine. Be flexible, but stay as close as possible to set times for eating meals, doing schoolwork, and going to bed.

  • Giving them a sense of control. Position frequent handwashing and other precautions as something they can do to help everyone stay well.

  • Connecting with friends and family. Hold calls or video chats with classmates, grandparents, and other people your child misses.

 

 

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Rina Lazebnik, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2020
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