While the coronavirus crisis has increased stress levels for all of us, younger children and teens are often more strongly impacted by such a national health disaster.
Kids have not only heard or seen news reports of what is happening but many have also been directly affected by the closing of their schools and colleges.
Such changes produce stress and anxiety for young people. Will there be graduation ceremonies? Will school sports or social events return? I miss my friends. I've never done online classes before. What if I get sick or my parents do?
The reduced socialization that was part of each school day is another stress-producing factor for many children. And yes, even very young children get scared as they hear bits and pieces of the news or see their parents’ anxiety or the differences in the way the family is living.
There are various changes that parents might observe that show how today's problems are affecting your children. In younger children it might be excessive crying or irritation, the return of behaviors previously outgrown, or exhibiting high levels of worry or sadness.
In older children the stress can express itself as changes in eating and sleeping habits, or increased levels of irritability and "acting out" behaviors in teens. School performance may suffer, what were favorite activities may by avoided, and there might be reports of headaches or body pain for no clear reason.
As a parent you want to try and help your child, regardless of age, understand what is going on. An age appropriate discussion of COVID-19 is a starting point, one with answers the kids can understand. Try to be reassuring, making your child know that his or her safety is your primary concern.
Try to limit your kids' exposure to news or social media stories about what is happening. When needed, share solid information from reliable sources rather than having the kids pick up misleading "facts," rumors and advice from the Internet.
The more you can maintain normal, regular family routines, the more comforting it can be for your children. And the better example you can set by staying reliably informed and by setting an example, as much as possible, of a normal, healthy life, the easier it will be for your children to cope with the stress they may be experiencing. Most importantly, don't skip on reassuring hugs and love for your children.