In the past few months, your child has been hearing repeated messages that COVID-19 is out to “get them” and they need to hide. They’ve been told that danger is around every corner. Every normal activity has been postponed, including seeing loved ones and sharing a hug. They hear adults worry about jobs, money, and going back to school. They may hear statistics about how deadly the virus has been in certain locations. The news is plastered with scary statistics, scary images, and no hope for the future. It’s enough to worry any adult. But for a child with a small frame of reference, a short lifetime of experience, and lack of adult logic, it can be terrifying. They may not know a single person that is ill, but the FEAR of that happening can be overwhelming.
Now, areas are allowing citizens to “relax” on the mandated restrictions. Suddenly, going to the grocery store is apparently no longer a potentially fatal experience. Food from a restaurant may be safe to eat. Parents can suddenly go to jobs that were a potential danger to their lives. This sudden shift may be very confusing to your child. They may experience anxious feelings and be hesitant to leave the house. Children may feel very unsafe unless every member of their family is home. How do you help a child walk through these anxious feelings?
Point Them to God
Help them remember that God is in control in all circumstances. Post comforting scripture around the house for them to read. Read the Bible together as a family. Pray often, and help them learn how to share these feelings with God. Talk about God often, and help them understand that even Christians sometimes feel anxious. Some of the greatest leaders in the Bible pour their hearts out to the Lord in fear. It’s normal to feel these experiences, but God equips us all with the tools we need to get through this.
Telling someone not to worry does not work. Never tell your child, “Oh, it’s fine. Just stop worrying about it!” These fears are real, understandable, and can be crippling. Talking about fears can be a wonderful step to helping others process their experiences and hear their thoughts from an outsider’s perspective. Compassionately listen, and acknowledge that you may have felt similar things and you understand. Don’t add to their fears, dominate the conversation, or dismiss their fears. Often, just being able to talk is a huge step toward relief. Children often are told that their concerns are not as scary or difficult as the concerns of an adult. Remember, the feeling of fear is valid to them. Telling them that it gets worse as an adult never helps.
Help Them Stay Grounded in Reality
It can be easy to let fear take over and forget what reality is. When children hear scary statistics about COVID-19 illness and death, acknowledge it and pray for those suffering, but remind your child how many people do not have the virus. Help them reflect on people you know that are healthy and safe. Remind them that the local, state, and federal government are here to help us and would not allow people to do activities that aren’t safe. When an anxious person feels totally out of control, there are simple techniques you can do from home to help distract them from what they are experiencing and refocus on the present moment. Children can use their five senses to regain control by feeling different water temperatures, smelling positive aromas, or participating in the 5-4-3-2-1 Method. Have your child exercise or call a friend. Find ways to make them laugh. Simple, pleasant distractions can help break the anxious moment.
Give Them Hope
Help your child look forward with hope. This may be a difficult time, and it may not end right away. But, we trust in a God who loves us and is in control. He has great plans for us! Help your child think about exciting things to come. These could be as simple as a picnic on their best friend’s driveway next week, as regular as school beginning in the fall, or as complicated as planning a fantastic trip some day.
Ask for Help
Sometimes, anxiety can be so difficult that just trying things at home may not be enough. There is no shame in asking for help. Reach out to your pastors, teachers, and church workers. Talk to the pediatrician. Seeking help for your child in no way indicates your failure as a parent, or that your child is doomed for life. Reach out. We are surrounded by excellent counselors, therapists, and church workers who can give your child the tools they need to deal with this fear.
We are in a unique position to help children learn how to appropriately deal with stress in a Biblical way. You’ve got this, parents! We are praying for you!