So much of our lives has changed due to Covid-19. Who would have thought hugging would become a thing of the past? Or schools closed for four months? Or that a simple handshake would be frowned upon? These changes can be overwhelming. Even children can’t escape Covid-19 anxiety.
Before Covid-19, the National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 revealed that 424,000 children in Malaysia are dealing with emotional and psychological issues. Just imagine how being cooped up at home for an extended time (and emerging to a very different world) would affect our children’s mental health. Children might sense the uncertainty of Covid-19 in the eyes of adults; and that could cause distress and trigger anxiety disorder. Anxiety serves as a signal to alert us to protect ourselves. But when we are overwhelmed by anxiety, it can do more harm than good. Post Covid-19 lockdown, even a familiar routine such as returning to school could trigger anxiety in children.
How can you tell if your child is suffering from anxiety?
Children may not always understand what they are feeling and neither can they express it. Therefore, it is important for parents to keep an eye on anxiety symptoms. Children may present physical symptoms such as abdominal pain (stomach ache), headaches and fatigue. But there are also more ambiguous signs that we should be aware of.
Younger children may become irritable, teary and clingy. They also often have difficulty in sleeping and tend to wake up in the middle of the night, experiencing nightmares and/or wetting the bed. While in older children, parents may start to notice that they struggle to face simple everyday challenges and that they lack the confidence to try new things. They might even avoid going to school or seeing their friends. Trouble sleeping, angry outbursts, difficulty in concentrating are also tell-tale signs of anxiety.
These worries become a problem when they start to interfere with your child’s daily activities.
Helping children cope with anxiety
The disruptions to daily life caused by Covid-19 are felt deeply by children. It is perhaps more frustrating for the innocent minds to face such a change in a short span of time. Watching your child struggle with anxiety can be frustrating to parents who are also fighting their own battles. But as educated adults who can see and comprehend the goings-on, it is our duty as parents to help children cope and navigate through complicated emotions at a young age.
Help your children manage their anxiety during Covid-19 with these helpful tips:
Narrate the new normal
Children’s mind is like a sponge absorbing everything they see and learn. However, they do not yet have the experience to allow them to see things in context. Here is where parents can play a role in explaining and narrating the new normal to them. Reassure them that they do not have to be afraid and instil a healthy respect for what is dangerous. Make them realise that they can make choices that can create better outcomes.
Work through their fear
Make time for conversations and allow your child to be honest with you. Rather than avoiding their fear, sometimes it helps to identify and talk about their triggers. Allow them to work through their fear. For example, if a child is worried about going back to school or about their friendships, try to talk through their fear and allow them to come up with their own solution on how to handle the situation. Remember, don’t reinforce their fear and avoid asking leading questions. Ask open-ended questions instead. They are the ‘pilot’ in these conversations.
Stay calm and be the shoulder to lean on
As parents, you are your children’s whole world, their rock. When they struggle with anxiety, it is more important than ever for you to stay calm and assume a support role for them. Be the shoulder for them to lean on. Allow distress, do not avoid things and empathize with their struggle. Acknowledge their feelings with kindness and give realistic reassurance. The goal is not to eliminate their anxiety but rather to help them manage it. Try to guide them to find healthy solutions to manage their issues. One way you can help your child is by practising gradual exposure to help them believe that they can overcome anxious moments. To begin with, you can do this by letting them take charge of little things such as ordering food at a drive-thru.
Make your home a place of positivity
Don’t let anxiety run the show! It is important to make your home a place of positivity when managing anxiety in children. Notice your child waking up for school without nightmares? Or finally building up the courage to say hello to the next-door neighbour? Give a compliment! Praise and reward minor accomplishments as they work on conquering their fear. Remember to focus on their strengths and keep the positivity going.
Allocating time to take in a deep breath can help your children calm their nerves in difficult moments. Teach them simple relaxation techniques and practice with them 5-10 minutes a day. This way, when you are not around, they are able to calm themselves; giving them the space to pause and decide on how to react to a situation.
A quick simple breathing technique you can use – take three deep slow breaths, count to three as you breathe in and another three as you breathe out.
Providing calming sensory toys
Like the breathing technique, this is another method to help calm your child’s nerves when dealing with anxiety. Plush toys, stress balls or anything squishy are sensory items designed to help people of all ages to provide stress relief. These toys act as an outlet for your child to safely vent out their frustration and worries.
If you’re ready to shop for some toys, reach out to our cari@unifi’s toy seller here
Give a heads up for big news
A surprise or sudden change can cause jitters. Prepare your child in advance if you know a big change such as reopening of schools or moving to a new place is coming up. Explain the ‘whens’ and ‘whys’ of a situation that is happening to help them manage their expectations. Allow them to raise their concerns and do not push them away. It helps to give reassurance in a world of so many uncertainties.
Get them to be active!
Being physically active produce a natural pain and stress reliever – endorphin. Scientifically speaking, finding ways to engage your child in physical activities will reduce their stress, improve their ability to sleep and boost their immune system. As we are still in the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) phase, practice social distancing and take the necessary measures if you decide to exercise outdoors. Try to go at quieter times when there are less people around. If you prefer to stay home, there are plenty of activities that you can try as a family. A simple game like tag or hide and seek can do wonders in improving your child’s mood.
Children are great at picking up silent social cues. They can quickly detect anxious parents. Be sure to refrain from becoming the overprotective and anxious parent when you see your child struggle. As their biggest cheerleader, you job is to cheer them on. Having said that, every parent need some “me time” to recharge. Your own mental health is just as important. Go to the gym, or a hair salon or pamper yourself at the spa. Recharge yourself before clocking in again as a supermum or superdad!
Ready for your “me time”? Check out some of the services at cari@unifi to find the perfect treat for yourself!
We hope these tips can help you to overcome anxiety attacks or disorders that your child might be experiencing. Do keep in mind that you know your child best and be sure to seek professional help if the situation does not improve.