Parenting Anxious Kids in an Anxious Time

In the midst of the fear and uncertainty we are experiencing with COVID-19, I want to offer some brief, even basic and practical ideas for managing your own anxiety, as well as your children’s.

In many ways, how we manage our own anxiety will transfer to how we are (or are not) able to appropriately care for and shepherd others, including our children.

1. Remain informed through trusted sources.

Strive to consult trusted news and information sources rather than media that is sensationalized and headline-focused. Examples of such trusted sources include:

2. Limit media exposure.

It’s necessary to stay informed, and it’s also wise. However, it’s incredibly tempting (speaking for myself) to become too consumed and too drawn in by the next headline.

  • Set a limit on when and how you will check for updates (e.g., news twice a day).
  • Stick to your plan with the goal of being informed and not entertained by the shock and awe of the headlines.
  • Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage, based on their developmental level. Our job as parents is both to navigate the complex web of information/misinformation and to assure our kids that we’re staying informed and will get them the information they need.

3. Share with your children as necessary.

Be ready to share with them, but don’t force it; guard against oversharing.

  • Sharing worries, fears, and concerns with others helps to identify how we are feeling.
  • We know the act of naming an emotion decreases the intensity of that emotion. Therefore, invite your children to share their fears and concerns with you if they are worried and concerned.
  • Validate your child’s emotions by letting them know that their fears are real and understandable, and at the same time communicate what can be done preventatively, as well as what is being done by all the experts.
  • Communicate that it is ok for them to discuss their concerns, fear, and worries with you at any time.
  • Provide reassurance (e.g. “we will get through this”) while acknowledging that you/we do not have all the answers.

4. Model peace and confidence by remaining calm and sticking with the facts.

  • Projecting a disposition of peace and confidence begins with managing your own fear and anxiety.
  • In conversations with your children, keep conversations calm and focused on the facts. Focus on what is being done and what can be done to contain the virus.
  • Educate your children about good health habits and include them (as is age-appropriate) in the development of family plans and safety behaviors.

5. Avoid common negative-thinking traps.

Watch yourself and your children for signs of catastrophizing and overgeneralization.

  • Catastrophizing is blowing something way out of proportion by imagining a situation is worse than it actually is (e.g. “This virus is going to last forever”).
  • Overgeneralizing is using extreme words (e.g., always, never, nothing, and so on) that are inaccurate, which only leads to increased anxiety (e.g. “There is nothing we can do about this; we are powerless”).
  • The solution is to recognize the negative thought in each scenario and to replace it with a more adaptive, accurate statement (e.g., “Dealing with this situation has been stressful. The virus may take several weeks to run its course, but there is much that we can do to reduce its effects. Here are some things we can do . . .”).

6. Focus on the basics.

Strive to maintain a semblance of balance while not overlooking or neglecting the following benefits.

  • Get outside—Plan an outdoor get-together with a few others, maintaining proper distance. Get out to local green spaces (if possible) for fresh air (walks, bike rides, and so on) and recreation. Use this time to draw the family closer together.
  • Get rest—Use some of the time away from your many commitments to get the extra rest that you and your family desperately need.
  • Eat well—Watch for extreme caffeine intake, sugar intake, and its effects on anxiety and mood.
  • Laugh, play, have fun—This need not be a time filled with only doom and gloom. Use levity, humor, and fun activities to lighten yourself and your family, which will reduce everyone’s anxiety.

7. Stick to a routine as much as possible.

All of us—kids especially—do well when on a consistent and predictable routine. Currently all of our family, personal, and work routines are in disarray. Further, we all manage and adapt to these disruptions in various ways, with varying levels of stress and anxiety associated with the change. Personally, during the last week, the more my freedoms are limited, the more disappointed and disillusioned I feel.

How we manage our own anxiety will transfer to how we are (or are not) able to appropriately care for and shepherd others, including our children.

Ultimately, we all deal with change and unpredictability differently. Children may display increased fussiness, anger, meltdowns, withdrawal and sadness over the adjustment and anxiety they’re feeling. Be sensitive to these signs and symptoms, and give grace and discuss their concerns as necessary.

Additionally, striving to maintain regular sleep hygiene (waking times, bedtimes), meal times, play/recreation times, and study/learning times can assist with regularity and predictability. This will be challenging but necessary to create some degree of a rhythm to your day and week.

8. Think about others and maintain a sense of community.

Turning your focus to how others in your extended family and neighborhood are affected and need help will turn your worries about self into concern for others. Check in on neighbors, have a meal together, and contact loved ones to see how they are doing and how you can help.

9. Reach out for support as necessary.

Should you require specific support in managing your anxiety or would like guidance with processing how to converse with your children regarding their fears and worries, contact your church elders or leaders for help. Elders are God’s gift to his church to shepherd you as you shepherd your family.

Additionally, many counselors and mental-health professionals in the area will continue to be available via tele-health services (video sessions) should you or someone you know require professional help.

10. Feed your own soul.

Spend unhurried time in God’s Word, unhurried time in prayer, begin reading a spiritually challenging book, consider meeting with your prayer triad or small group online and/or extended family as possible for encouragement and fellowship. Consider the following resources. In addition to everything TGC is publishing on the coronavirus, Crossway is offering a number of free digital resources.

11. Draw near to God.

  • Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4), especially in this time.
  • Acknowledge and reflect on God’s sovereignty over all creation, including the coronavirus and the fallout from it (Ps. 115:3)
  • Thank the Lord for any blessings you take for granted, including your work, your health, your finances, and your family.
  • Finally, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Col. 3:15).