Is COVID-19 causing children in your care to be anxious? 8 tips to support
As Australia works through another tricky time, this one triggered by the prominent presence of COVID-19 in the media and in discussions around the country, many children may be experiencing anxiety and confusion, particularly on the back of an anxious summer of catastrophic fires.
The presence in the news cycle of adults behaving in scary and unpredictable ways may be unsettling for some children, who may have worries about friends and family, concerns about not having enough to eat, or a feeling of unease about the idea of being trapped in their homes for weeks on end.
Meerilinga staff began to notice children in their care discussing and expressing concern about the coronavirus. As a result, they spoke with Dr. Emma DeCicco, Clinical and Principal Psychologist at The Dash Health Hub Perth, for some practical tools and strategies, which The Sector is now sharing to support other services who may be experiencing similar challenges.
- Create communication pathways between the caregiver and child/ren. Choose a safe and quiet environment to curiously explore what the child/ren know about Coronavirus and whether they have any concerns / worries or questions, Dr DeCicco said. Some children might not have words for these feelings, so you can ask if they have funny feelings in their body or get them to draw a picture, or act out their worries with toys. It is natural for adults and children to feel scared or nervous when something is threatening or unpredictable.
- Normalise any worries or fears using empathy “It’s totally normal to feel afraid or scared and you’re safe with me to talk about it”, “I feel scared sometimes too, all people do, but it’s ok because I am here to look after you”. If worries or concerns are present talk about a) what it can feel like in their bodies (butterflies in your tummy etc.) and how you feel when you are experiencing nervousness or anxiety.
- Brainstorm ideas to help the child/ren feel safer, e.g., you can talk to someone, you can do some balloon breathing, what do you need to feel safer right now? etc.
- Be calm and factual. Children respond best to being provided with age-appropriate information. Remember, stick to the facts that they can understand e.g., “Coronavirus is a bug that you can catch just like a cold and for most people it is just like having a cold”.
- Limit exposure to media that is perpetuating panic. This form of information is uncontrolled and most often very unhelpful for children as it feeds fear.
- Encourage usual hygiene practices e.g. “we wash our hands so that we can wash the bugs away” and limit contact with those whom are ill, but explain that “this is what we do with all bugs, not just the coronavirus”.
- Keep communication open by encouraging the child/ren to talk to caregivers/safe adults and by checking in with the child/ren to ask if they have any questions.
- If the child/ren are showing ongoing anxious distress (e.g., refusing to go to school, feeling very scared all the time, repeated nightmares, unusual bed wetting etc.) then seek professional support from a GP and psychologist.
More information on The Dash – Health Hub can be found on their website.