Watching my two littles at odds again this morning is causing me anxiety and making me wonder if everything going on in the world is creating this animosity between them. I am noticing a definite shift in their moods—their tempers are shorter with each other (and me), and they seem to be retreating into their own little worlds more frequently.
Could all this 24/7 coronavirus talk and social distancing be affecting them? Do my kids really understand what is going on?
Short answer: They probably do. Kids of all ages can become anxious—not all will—but you can help them cope and restore their perception of the world as a safe place.
When parents are focusing on stressful events with frequent reminders, like updates and images, it can cause levels of anxiety that can create an atmosphere of uncertainty that is hard to escape. And when everyone is under the same roof for extended periods of time, it can be tough for littles to get away from consuming these fears.
The good news is that this anxiety is usually temporary and resolves itself when security is established or life resumes its normal pattern. Think: When kids go back to school and are able to have some play dates with friends.
While your child might not be watching the news, they are watching you and picking up on your verbal and non-verbal cues. So even if you are being really careful about what you say, your kids are by nature very attuned to how you say it—fast, high and loud, or hushed and secretive. In short, children can pick up on your anxiety and reflect it back to you in their own innocent ways.
In a study published in the Journal of Dental Research, researchers found that maternal anxiety affected the behavior of young children. Even though these kids were experiencing a dental procedure, it found that kids mirror what parents display around them—in this case, calm or anxiety.
During trying times, it is practically impossible to shield your kids from what is going on and how you are feeling about events outside of your control—and theirs. So it's good to know what to do if it is all weighing too much on them.
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased irritability + anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Upset for no apparent reason
- Headaches + stomach aches
- Address anxiety with your child to help them notice the changes in their body and behavior.
- Help them understand that feelings of anxiety are normal and that everyone's behavior or mood changes when they feel this way. It is their body's way of letting them know that they are uncomfortable.
- You may be feeling anxious yourself, and it's okay to share your concerns to demonstrate that it is normal to feel uncertain and upset—but do so within limits.
- Help your child relax by talking with them to find out what about the situation is making them feel anxious.
- Have them draw a picture of how they are feeling if they are having trouble telling you.
- Create an atmosphere of control by modeling coping behaviors for your kids to follow, like deep breathing and meditation. Call out what they already do well and can do to help themselves.
- Give them extra cuddles and comfort to remind them that you are always there for them, even when stressful things happen.
- Call your pediatrician if their anxiety prevents them from doing things they normally enjoy or you notice a change in sleep habits or appetite—or anything else abnormal and prolonged.
You are the most important influence on your child's ability to manage and recover from their fears. By staying engaged and playing to your strengths and theirs, you can provide them with the language to label this feeling and let them know that it's normal, and just like the stress, it won't last forever.
Bottom line: Kids can get anxious, even when you are a good mom. How you react can help your little one grow through anxiety and build their resilience in the face of future stressful events. You've got this.