Anxiety, the #1 secondary effect of Covid in our families and our classrooms.
For the last two years we’ve been challenged by this “thing” called Covid. Covid has affected all of us in different ways and when I look at our incredible children, I can see how the deepest mark it has left on them is anxiety.
Many of our children are anxious and some are even developing OCD tendencies. Contrary to us adults, children don’t have enough life experiences yet to look at the Covid phenomenon and process and understand the different messages they receive from the environment effectively. Because of their biology, children take messages literally, don’t question them too much, and have the tendency to generalize them, fantasize them and sometimes even take them way out of proportion. They are kids.
Without a doubt, Covid is a serious illness and we need to protect ourselves and our families. Physically and mentally. The big challenge, is how to protect our children physically while not seeding fear and anxiety and therefore hurt them emotionally. How to make them understand that they have to wear their masks and wash their hands for example, and at the same time, guard them from becoming so obsessed with those activities that they can’t function normally anymore.
We need to help our children survive and thrive, both physically and mentally, and one aspect can not come at the expense of the other.
I’d like to share with you a few strategies I use at home with my own kids to protect them physically and emotionally. I hope you find some of these strategies useful for your family too.
Be careful with what you share. Our children take the information they hear and see in a literal way and insert it in their own private world. Copy paste. But their world is a world of stories, movies, great imagination and not enough life experiences. So things get out of proportion, and sometimes they “explode”. A child who hears for example that people are dying of Covid, will almost immediately think that their parents and loved ones are going to die next. Can you imagine the stress and anxiety this produces in a child?
Mediate. Because children’s brains work differently than adults' brains and sometimes children even get a hold of the news before we do, it is very important that we act as the filters our children don’t have yet. When we talk about, or our child hears about death, illness or danger, it is very important that we state out loud those thoughts that for us grown ups are obvious but for them are not. Those thoughts that despite the subject, allow us to continue to function properly without entering a state of distress. For example: if we mention that people are dying from Covid, it is very important to reassure our child by adding that not everybody is dying from it, that actually only a very small percentage of the population is. We can mention that our bodies are strong and we are hopeful they can efficiently fight Covid if they had to, or that even if we do get sick, we have amazing doctors who can help us get better soon. In the specific case of Omicron for example, we can add the fact that this strain has lighter effects on people than previous strains did and therefore even if we get sick, our chances of regaining our health fast are extremely high. We may also say that with Omicron, symptoms are much lighter than with other strains and therefore even though we are still careful, we are not worried. Wherever you choose to say, the idea is to mitigate the effects a child’s imagination has over any kind of information that brings with it the fear of death or danger.
Show hope. “Your child takes it from you”, said the ER nurse to me when I brought my 8 year old son in, me in a panic attack, fearing for his life. “Calm down”, she said. “He needs you now”. Our children are permanently looking at us for cues. They can read us and they can feel us, and if we are stressed, scared, anxious, or are feeling any kind of feeling, they will know and feel it too. Anxiety, fear, stress, they are all very contagious feelings and the last thing we want is to have our child worry. We want them and need them effectively coping with and not worrying about life. That’s why showing hope is very important. Keep calm (even if sometimes it is very hard), and project a sense of safety and hope. This is what your child needs from you. If you are stressed, anxious, worried, they can’t think (nor can you), they can’t concentrate and learn, they can’t play, they can’t be kids.
Provide enough opportunities to decompress. Covid and Covid precautions are all over the place. We test often, wear masks wherever we go, wash hands, and maybe even avoid crowded places or situations where we are not sure about the health status of the other people around. All recommended ways to prevent the sickness and stop the virus from spreading. We are Covid “en garde” all day, and this is too much to bare. Human beings can’t live too long in fight or flight mode before they become sick (physically and/or mentally). We need to decompress. One way of doing this is by determining and expressing out loud that our house is a safe place. We are now at the house, we already washed our hands, now no more Covid conversation until it’s time to put our mask on to enter the next place where yes, we need to protect ourselves. This includes turning the news off and refraining from talking about Covid related stuff at home. Our home should be our refuge, Covid topic free (or reduced to the bare minimum). We need a safe place where we can decompress.
Find balance. Yes, we need to wash our hands and yes we need to wear our mask, but if we are washing our hands every hour or wearing our mask in places where we don’t really need it (like our car), we are setting ourselves and our children up to develop unhealthy habits which could lead to mental health issues like anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. One thing is to wash hands before we eat and when we come back from the store, another very different one is to wash our hands every hour or half hour just because there might be germs there. It kills our natural and necessary bacteria, it hurts our skin, it hurts our mind. The same goes for our mask.
Without a doubt we are living in very challenging times and also without a doubt, we have a huge responsibility: our kids. To protect them physically and mentally.
If after reading this article you find yourself wondering if maybe your child is showing signs of anxiety and you think your or them might need some help, please know that there are amazing professionals out there who can provide you with what you need. From the answer to a very simple question, to organized, structured help. And as always, you can reach out to me. I’m here to support you.
Looking forward, optimistically, to much better times,