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A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Mother talking to daughter

Family Feeling Stressed About Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

News of spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) can create worry in even the calmest parent. We want to protect our children but don’t always know how, and the uncertainty can be difficult to manage. This is understandable – I know I’ve felt on edge at times lately!

Here are some tips to help parents manage their own worry and calm their children during difficult times:

Stay informed but don’t over focus on media coverage. Avoid news and social media that can be sensationalized and repetitive. Take a break from most social media. Decide to look at the news only once a day and get your information from direct sources. For coronavirus or COVID-19 see updates from:

Take care of yourself. Everyone’s emotions may be closer to the surface right now – which can make you feel on edge and your kids clingy. I’ve heard it said that “you’re a mirror for your child.” They look to you to see if they are okay. Your stress level affects them, so be sure to care for yourself – sleep, eat, and exercise well. If you’re feeling overwhelmed:

  • Talk with friends, family, or a counselor.
  • Start your day with a few moments of meditation – rather than checking your phone for the latest news.
  • Increase calm and fun activities – hobbies, time with friends and family.
  • Get outside for exercise each day – this has been shown to decrease anxiety symptoms. Bring the kids – it’s good for them too!

Start a conversation with your child. Even young children have probably heard of the coronavirus – often from other children. It’s best if they get information from you and have a chance to ask questions. Here’s how to start:

  • Ask what they’ve heard about the virus from other kids. Are they worried or afraid? What questions do they have? Their answers help you know where to begin.
  • Tell them what you know in words appropriate for their age and temperament. Older kids understand more detailed information than younger children. More anxious children may benefit from less detail. Reassure them by saying, “This is concerning news, and it’s okay to be scared or worried. You’re not alone. I’m here for you.” Explain that scientists and health care experts are working hard to keep us all safe.
  • Listen to their concerns and answer their questions. Some children may not want to talk, which can be normal. Just remind them you’re available for questions or reassurance. Also remind them they can talk with teachers, counselors, or grandparents too.
  • Limit TV and social media for them as well. If you’re not able to completely shelter your young children from media, discuss what they heard. Also, limit adult conversations about the news. Children may overhear adults talking and either understand more than we give them credit for or jump to scary conclusions.
  • Reassure children. Younger children (3 or younger) can simply be told you’ll keep them safe. Older kids will want more detail. Have them focus on things they enjoy or want to do in the future. Discussing topics like gratitude and hope help children cope with scary news. So, spend time together each night talking about what you’re grateful for!
  • Stick to routines. Following your family’s usual schedule, having regular meals, and getting lots of exercise can be very helpful for you and your child.

When to reach out to your pediatrician

Stress and uncertainty can leave children feeling frightened, confused, and insecure. Contact us if you notice any of these symptoms (especially if they last for more than a few weeks).

Concerning symptoms:

  • Seeming depressed, withdrawn, angry, or irritable.
  • Sleeping problems (not being able to fall or stay asleep, having nightmares, or sleeping too much).
  • Eating less or more than usual.
  • Withdrawing from or avoiding friends, family and normal activities.
  • Bed-wetting, bathroom accidents, or other regressive behavior.
  • Acting aggressively.
  • Having more trouble separating from parents, clinging, not being willing to let you out of their sight, fear that you will not return.
  • Experiencing other symptoms that affect their ability to function like recurrent headaches or stomachaches.

You can always schedule a phone or video visit with your child’s doctor to discuss concerns and reassure your child if they’re worried.

Most children are resilient and able to cope with stress and trauma if supported and guided through the experience. Our children’s responses and ability to cope depends on how we as parents, caregivers, and teachers respond. Being willing to start a conversation early and keep it going will help them thrive despite challenges around them.

Resources for Parents

American Academy of Pediatrics:
Responding to Children’s Emotional Needs During Times of Crisis

My Doctor Online:
Stress
Wellness Coaching – including stress reduction

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.