How to help kids relax and feel safe during these stress-filled coronavirus pandemic times

It feels like we’re all in some sort of movie. Right? We’re being told to stay indoors. Stay away from others. Follow curfews. Keep your distance.

In our homes and around the community you may hear, “Wash your hands,” “Don’t touch your face,” “Mom, where’s the sanitizer?” “Don’t touch that! No! Ugh…Why did you touch that?”.

All of these new house rules and societal changes have turned our day-to-day adult lives upside down. For our children, the world as they know it has become somewhat unknown. Almost foreign.

During times of uncertainty, children feel overwhelmed. They look for us to help relieve them of their fears and anxiety. It may be hard for us to discuss these situations with our children, but it doesn’t have to be. Just being there for them is enough.

The following are some items that may help you and your family cope with the inevitable anxiety our children are experiencing.

1. Have your kids talk to you about what they know.

It’s likely our children are getting their information from peers, local news, social media and quite possibly conversations they overhear. This information can be overwhelming and confusing. They may not be able to distinguish between the facts and exaggerations. It may sound much more serious to them than what it actually is.

Have them tell you what they know, and find out how they developed the idea. This can help you figure out what they’re thinking and how they’re making sense of all of the information they’re hearing.

2. Anxious children tend to exaggerate their thinking.

Anxiety does a really great job of filling the gaps within our thoughts in order to help make sense of things. A young brain will often fill those gaps with inaccuracies, leading to more confusion and increased worry. Help kids by reviewing those thoughts and reassure them that our job as parents is to keep them safe.

3. Remind them that it’s normal to feel what they’re feeling.

It’s only natural that a sudden shift in their routine will cause mixed feelings. Studies have shown that children who experience traumatic events have a much more difficult time coping when they believe their feelings are not normal. Remind them that what is happening is in fact weird and scary. Tell them that there’s no such thing as a right or wrong reaction or feeling. That it is absolutely okay to feel what they are feeling. Explain that everyone feels and experiences situations differently.

4. Stay calm and be their strength.

Children speak our language. If we’re anxious, they’re anxious. If we’re relaxed, they’ll be relaxed. This may be difficult for some of us. In this case, remember that you have always made sure they are safe. This time is no different. So, stay strong and help them believe that everything will be ok.

5. It’s okay to let them know what you feel.

It’s important to let your kids know how you feel, whether you’re nervous or frustrated, so long as you show them that you are certain all will be okay. Showing strength, even when you’re vulnerable, not only helps them feel safe and secure, but it also helps them see how situations should be handled.

4. Join them in their moment.

Wherever they are, be next to them. Sit with them. Let them know that you are in this together and will get through this together. The goal here is to help them see that you understand how they are feeling. That you see what they’re seeing, and feel what they feel. And even though they’re worried or scared, you know we will all be okay. Children will begin to believe it, once we meet them where they’re at.

6. Help turn their anxiety into a positive.

Anxious children have a tendency to focus on the things they struggle with. This will only cause more anxiety and feelings of hopelessness. Help distract them from their insecurities by having them focus on the things they can do. Help them see that every time they’re washing their hands, keeping their distance, etc., they’re doing something very important by making sure they are keeping other people safe.

7. Use analogies they can understand.

All of the protective measures being taken, particularly during these type situations, can make our children anxious and scared. Explain to them that the increase of hand washing and temporary quarantine are things we’re doing just in case; it doesn’t mean their world is ending.

Compare the constant hand washing and social distancing to wearing a helmet when they ride a bike, for example.

Help them understand that when they wear helmets, it’s not because you expect something bad to happen. It’s to keep them safe should something happen. That they are fortunate to have such things that help keep them safe.

Dr. Orlando V. Rodriguez is a licensed clinical psychologist with Key Biscayne Psychology, LLC. with offices at 240 Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne.