The uncertainties that come with the COVID-19 pandemic can be especially stressful for children. According to Christopher Lynch, PhD, psychologist and director of pediatric behavioral medicine for Goryeb Children’s Hospital, “Kids think in terms of either the situation is safe, or it is dangerous. We need to help kids understand what the variables are that make a situation more or less safe.”
Dr. Lynch says ambiguities can cause anxiety in children. “If a child is anxious, they may exhibit physical signs such as shaking, sweating, nail biting, pulling out their hair or nervous tics. Sometimes you see changes in behavior such as not sleeping well or persistent irritability or anger. You want to look for things out of the norm.”
Everyday activities that children normally participate in have been disrupted. Dr. Lynch offers practical advice on how parents can suggest safer alternatives:
- Playing with friends – It might not be safe to go to a party, so arrange for a hangout with one or two friends in the park and maintain distance from each other.
- School – Children will be attending school online or a combination of online and in person. They adapt pretty quickly, but what they are missing is the presence of a teacher who serves as a mental anchor and keeps them on track. To keep them feeling connected, tap into support from teachers, counselors, or study groups with peers.
- Extracurricular activities – If children are involved in activities such as orchestra, parents can encourage their kids to participate virtually. When it comes to sports, set up a lacrosse net in the yard and practice with a few kids.
- Media exposure – Pay attention to where your children are getting their information. A lot is inaccurate, so set limits on media exposure and make sure their understanding of the situation is accurate.
Dr. Lynch says parents can start a dialogue with their children. “Be honest and give them information at a level they can process and ask them to explain it back to you. I encourage families to brainstorm with their children and teens over alternative activities that would be satisfying.
Christopher Lynch, PhD, is part of Atlantic Medical Group, a multispecialty network of health care providers. For more information, visit atlanticmedicalgroup.org. He can be reached at 973-971-6305.