So far, 2020 has been one of the most unusual and unsettling times in modern history. We are only half-way through the year, and we have had to deal with fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, an early start to the hurricane season, murder hornets, a resurgence of Ebola virus in Africa, Zika virus, an infestation of locusts, a murder that sparked a worldwide protest movement, the release of previously classified UFO files, a contentious political and racial atmosphere, and the cherry on the top – a global pandemic that brought the world as we knew it to a standstill. Children are watching all of this and how you, as a parent, are handling these events.
In previous years, any one or a combination of two of these events would be stressful for the average parent. But when you combine these events one after another, sometimes in tandem, it can be overwhelming for even the strongest person. Parents don’t have the luxury to just sit and be overwhelmed. They have jobs, bills, children that rely on them, and a host of obligations that do not lend themselves to inactivity.
Parents sometimes forget that children are very observant and intuitive. They can feel when Mom or Dad is stressed out. They hear it in their voices and see it in their reactions. Parents cannot shelter their children from every stressful event growing up, nor should they. But, parents should be cognizant of how their reactions shape their child’s view of the world around them.
Here are a four techniques to help children learn to deal with stress and anxiety:
· Help them to verbalize their fears. Let your child know that it’s okay to feel afraid or anxious, and that they should come and talk to you when they feel that way. Communication is key to allaying a child’s fears. Don’t belittle or brush off any of their concerns, even if it seems trivial to you, because it may be overwhelming in a child’s mind. Sometimes scheduling a parent/child vent session works well, because the child feels you are 100% there to hear their concerns, and they may be more apt to share their fears with you.
· Teach them how to relax. All children should have some relaxing hobby or activity they can turn to when they’re anxious or just bored. These activities can range from reading, bike riding, yoga, meditation, drawing, singing, etc. Teach them to tap into their creative brain to tamp down the noise of their anxiety.
· Don’t allow their fear to turn in to an obsession. If you child cannot stop talking about something that has them frighten and is overly anxious, try distracting them with a fun activity, family game or movie night, baking or cooking together, etc. Use any activity that you know has brought joy to the child in the past to turn off their anxiety brain and give it time to reset. Also, monitor their access to the news if that is contributing to the problem, monitor their internet usage and video games (no ultra-violent content).
· Build your child’s self-esteem. It is difficult for anyone to feel overly scared or anxious all the time, when they have a healthy self-esteem. When a child is self-confident, they are better equipped to deal with a situation like a pandemic, and it will help them throughout life as they grow and face other adverse or stressful situations.
The ability to embrace a new normal, and adapt to change, will be crucial not only for parents, but for their children as well. Children that learn to adapt now, to a world that seems to be changing at an unprecedented pace, will grow up to be adults who will confidently shape the future for their children and generations to come.