The negative consequences of COVID-19 echo far beyond a public health crisis. Staggering unemployment rates, widespread social isolation, school closures, activity cancellations, unavailability of support networks, and disruption of cherished routines continue to affect people globally, with stress as a common byproduct.
A recent Co-SPACE (COVID-19 Supporting Parents, Adolescents, and Children in Epidemics) survey found parents are currently most stressed about work issues and concern over their children’s education and welfare.
The report also found the highest levels of stress were reported by parents of children with special education needs and neurodevelopmental disorders.
Unless they are too young to understand, children know things aren’t normal right now. Many schools closed their doors 2-3 months ago, children saw their sports activities canceled, parents may be out of work or working from home, grandparents aren’t visiting and the family routine has likely changed dramatically.
In an effort to protect their children, many parents attempt to hide the stress and anxiety they are feeling. But most experts agree that children can tell when their parents are stressed, and often take on that stress themselves.
Activities to Ease Children’s Stress
It’s often easier on children when parents are honest about a situation without going into too much detail. When parents are open with their children, encouraging them to talk about what is worrying them and asking what their children are hearing from friends or others, it provides opportunities for honest dialogue, which helps relieve anxiety.
Ways for parents to help children manage stress include:
- Even though the school year is over for most children, maintain a schedule. Establish what time kids should get up and when they should go to bed. Set expectations and limits regarding chores, summer schoolwork, reading time, and screen time. Encourage kids to spend time outdoors, to participate in fun activities and games, and to be physically active.
- Reinforce good behavior by giving children lots of positive recognition. Spend time together reading, listening to positive stories, meditating, and finding ways to laugh. Sing funny songs, dance silly dances. Singing, dancing, laughing, and being physically active relieves stress and improves mood.
- Use Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, or another app to stay connected with loved ones, children’s friends, martial arts or other classes, hobbies, or other activities.
Parents Need to Take Care of Themselves
Stressful situations are most easily managed when you feel rested and calm. That is why it’s critical to take the time to care for yourself during difficult times.
- Exercise. YouTube has an exercise video to fit any need, ability, or interest.
- Make sure you and your family are eating a nutritious, balanced diet, drinking lots of water, avoiding sugar and other simple carbohydrates, and avoiding unhealthy fats.
- Get sufficient sleep. Stick to a normal sleep schedule.
- Regularly incorporate practices of meditation, yoga, deep breathing, positive thinking, and journaling into your daily routine.
- Get creative. Enjoy dance, music, art, writing, or other creative arts.
- Reach out for support. Use one of the apps listed above to stay connected to family and friends. Connect with an online therapist or support group.
- If you live with a partner, share childcare, and home responsibilities.
- Volunteer to help others in need.
- Limit negative news, movies, and TV shows.
- If you’re struggling with substance use, talk to a professional. Managing your stress through drugs or alcohol is likely only making the situation worse.
As a parent, your children are looking to you for guidance. By working to manage your own stress, you are helping to reduce anxiety in your children.
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