Young Children's Mental Health and Coping During Pandemic

Parents and children are experiencing a greater level of anxiety and stress during pandemic. We feel nervous about contracting coronavirus, frustrated by reopening plans, and skeptical of whether children can follow safety protocols. Public health actions, such as social distancing, are necessary to reduce the spread of coronavirus but they can make us feel isolated and lonely. Now that the vaccines are available, we wonder if we will return to normal.


Tips for Talking to Children about COVID-19

Have honest and open conversations with your children. Avoiding important discussions will create more anxiety.

Encourage children’s active roles in staying safe, instead of focusing on things that are out of control (e.g. ‘What if the classmate gets COVID?’). Ask what they can do. Being a part of collective efforts will normalize their anxiety and make them proud of their initiation.

  • Avoid touching their faces

  • Washing their hands often

  • Smaller groups in the classroom

  • Keeping a distance from each other

Impact on Children’s Mental Health

Not all children respond to crisis and tragedy in the same way. Anxiety, stress, or fear often manifest in their behaviors.


Common Changes:

  • Excessive crying or irritation

  • Increased tantrum, emotional outbursts

  • Regressive behaviors (e.g. bedwetting, thumb sucking, babytalk)

  • Excessive worry or sadness

  • Clinging to parent a lot

  • More or less appetite, or picky eating

  • More unsettled at bedtime

  • Start playing with the toys they haven’t used in a long time

  • Acting out: moodiness, aggression, disobeying instruction

  • Difficulty in solving problems

  • Avoiding interactions and shows little interest in others in school

  • Avoidance of activities they used to enjoy

  • Unexplained headaches or body pain

  • Trouble focusing

Ways to Help Children Cope

  • Explain what happened with a simple fact when the family experienced tragedy.

  • Ask children if they have concerns by letting them know it’s okay to be upset. Help children ‘name’ their feelings and validate. Provide reassurance that their fear won’t come true.

  • Share how a parent deals with her/his own stress together find the solutions.

  • Talk in a calm manner. If you talk to your child in a highly emotional way, then she/he will likely absorb your emotions.

  • Limit their exposure to news. Children may misinterpret what they hear and feel terrified about something they don’t understand.

  • Try to keep regular routines. Create learning activities and relaxing or fun activities if school is closed. Restore their normal routine if they had gone through quarantine.

  • Motivate children to focus on things they look forward to after quarantine.

  • Adjust expectations. Getting back to ‘normal’ can take a while. Emphasize your family’s resilience and effort as a unit.


Mindfulness

A great way to help children is to promote ‘sense of self’ so that they can distance themselves from stress and anxiety. Re-center their thoughts on things they do in the present moment. It will help them regulate their emotions. Mindfulness activities include breathing exercise and sensory activities.


How to Utilize School Resources

If you are concerned about your child or if their intense emotions might be affecting her/his participation in school,

  • Talk to your child’s teachers

  • Contact your family worker for community support system

  • Reach out to Mental Health Consultant