Pro-active tips to combat anxiety in children during COVID-19

By:
Patti Hoffman, BA, MAC
Pat Wasserman, M.Ed, MSW

She quickly pulls her fingers out of her mouth when she notices her mother’s horrified face. “Mommy, do I have to go to the hospital? Am I going to get sick?”  COVID-19 has pushed some of our fears to the forefront. What will happen? How am I going to work and take care of my children? What if I get sick? How long is this going to last?

During times of uncertainty, worrisome thoughts often race through our minds. As adults, we can self-reflect and make adjustments to decrease our anxiety, but what about children? Children experience anxiety, too, and often their anxiety reflects our own. To find out ways to support children during this confusing time, including children with hearing loss, we turned to our experts: CID’s school counselor and family resource counselor. Here are some helpful tips that they shared:

  • Recognize signs of anxiety. A child who is feeling anxious might:
    • cry, whine or be angry more often than usual
    • return to behaviors they’ve outgrown
    • have difficulty concentrating
    • want to be very close to you or alternately, not want to be near anyone
    • experience changes in sleeping, eating or eliminating
    • ask the same question repeatedly or become overly focused on a particular movie, toy or activity.
  • Limit media coverage. The non-stop COVID-19 coverage on TV that we turn to for reassurance may actually be contributing to anxiety. It is important to remember that children with cochlear implants and hearing aids can hear not only what is being said on TV but also conversations that parents and/or grandparents are having. They may overhear or see information that doesn’t make much sense to them and make inaccurate inferences.
  • Answer questions honestly and at your child’s language level. For this situation, the basics are: “There is a germ that is being shared that is making some people sick. We don’t want to get sick, and we don’t want others to get sick. Everyone is staying home for a while so that we can try to stay healthy. Soon, we’ll go back to how things were.”
  • Reassure your child. Acknowledge that this is different and something you haven’t done before. Sometimes different can be scary. Talk about a time you and your child did something different and it turned out okay. Remind your child that you are there to help them through this time.
  • Teach what you can You can wash your hands. You can eat healthy foods. You can get a good night’s sleep. You can take care of others by calling them or drawing them a picture. You can take deep breaths. You can think happy thoughts. You can take walks together. You can play games. There are many things you don’t have control over, but there are also many things you can do.
  • Develop a daily routine. Routines provide space for our brains to concentrate on something beyond survival. Routines don’t have to be based on specific times but can instead be focused on doing the same activities in the same order each day. This is especially important for children with low language levels. Use a picture schedule with simple drawings to indicate what’s going to happen each day. Let your child know what is coming next. Some families even use picture schedules to accomplish individual tasks like brushing teeth, cleaning up toys, feeding the dog, etc.
  • Take care of yourself. You’ve likely heard the analogy of putting the oxygen mask on yourself first so that you can do your best to help others. What does self-care look like for you? Make sure you are taking time to do at least one small thing for yourself each day.

All of us are experiencing some amount of anxiety because of COVID-19 and the impact it’s having on our lives. It is important to recognize that we can manage this anxiety and help our children learn to manage it, too.

Below are additional resources that may be helpful in easing COVID-19 anxiety in children.

We have also created a link to a variety of resources on our webpage that can support not only parents but other professionals working to support students remotely.
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References and Resources:

Patti Hoffman is a Family Resource Specialist at CID— Central Institute for the Deaf and also serves as an Early Childhood Educator in the Anabeth and John Weil Early Childhood Center at CID. In her role as Family Resource Specialist she helps staff and families find community resources that support their needs, facilitates a family connection group and organizes events for families.   Hoffman has a BA in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and an MA in Counseling and School Counseling. She has presented workshops at CID as well as at professional conferences, written an article for Volta Voices, guest lectured for the Washington University Program in Audiology and Communication Sciences and compiled the CID Developmental Rating Forms for children ages 3-5. Hoffman has been a member of the CID staff since 2005.

Pat Wasserman is the school counselor at CID. Pat has a hearing loss and wears bilateral cochlear implants. She has her Master’s in Counseling and Social Work. Her role at CID is to support students and their families while collaborating with staff. She conducts one-on-one and group sessions with children during the day covering topics such as social manners, acceptable behavior, advocacy, safety, bullying, life-skills, coping with hearing loss and cochlear implant preparation. Pat also organizes CID’s young alumni club and conducts mainstream sessions with graduating students.One of the highlights of her job is reconnecting and staying in touch with her former students.

During her free time, she enjoys cooking, traveling and spending time with her family, grandchildren and friends.

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