It makes me feel a sense of confusion. No one is sure when this is going to end, not even the top doctors and experts. It’s hard to know when life is going to go back to normal and that’s concerning to me. Beacon Medical Group adolescent patient

5 ways to help ease fear in children, adolescents, of Coronavirus

A growing number of children and students are feeling anxious and worried about the COVID-19 pandemic. Beacon Medical Group child psychiatrists Dr. Ahmed Elmaadawi and Dr. Elizabeth Hay are not only seeing more children and adolescents who are scared, but they are also receiving questions from more parents about how to show strength and provide reassurance during these uncertain times.

Keep Calm and talk to your children.

Children can sense anxiety from their parents or caregivers, and adolescents are especially good at picking up on emotional cues from adults. So it is important that parents manage their own anxiety before talking to their kids about Coronavirus. Take a moment and BREATHE before moving into conversation. Dr. Elmaadawi compares the time parents need to take to prepare for a conversation, to a process described by flight attendants before takeoff: “Put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping others.”

Reassure fears by emphasizing good hygiene.

Parents should spend time educating children about healthy hygiene and simple facts about the virus. If they understand the basics, it may help ease their fears. Avoid using medical jargon that may confuse a child. With younger children, explain how hand washing with soap, and covering your mouth and your nose with your arm when you cough or sneeze, helps you stay healthy. Reassure older children and adolescents that they should wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their faces, practice social distancing and stay at least 6 feet away from others when they are in public.

Always try to complement your child.

Parents should offer complementary words when they see their child washing their hands or working hard to practice good hygiene. Consider offering a simple reward if your goal is to build a good habit. Positivity goes a long way with children. Young children do not understand “don’t” or “not” so it’s important to redirect with positive statements as opposed to trying to change behavior by using negativity.

Manage their frustration, and listen to your child.

Sometimes children just need to be heard. Providing simple reassurance after you listen to your child explain their fears about Coronavirus, or their frustration from not being able to see their friends socially or at school, can make a big difference to a child. Validate their emotions, including frustration and disappointment at losing opportunities and experiences that they may have anticipated for years. Allow them to have their space, and try to not push them to spend more time with family than they are comfortable with. Above all, reassure them that they are not alone, that their families and friends are in this with them, and that their suggestions and contributions are valuable and needed.

Make schedules, set rules around screen time.

It is important for children to be follow schedules, especially now when they are completing schoolwork at home. This will help them balance time while families are home, and allow for dedicated quality time – including meals – to spend together with the entire family. Parents should control the amount of media their child may be exposed to, because the overwhelming amount of information that can create more anxiety or confusion. Engage children in figuring out how their family can keep themselves occupied during shelter-in-place periods, and off media, with board games and exercise.

Beacon Health System is committed to serving the mental health needs of our community. We offer inpatient behavioral health units at Memorial Epworth and the Elkhart Center for Behavioral Medicine and outpatient mental health care at Beacon Medical Group Behavioral Health South Bend.