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6 ways you can help your anxious child during COVID-19

There’s no question that the lives of our kids have been significantly disrupted by COVID-19, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight any time soon. As a mom, you’re probably lying awake at night agonising about how you can best protect your child from the anxiety and stress so it doesn’t escalate into other problems later on.

Watch your words

“Your child’s ability to regulate their behaviour, emotions and thoughts are significantly influenced by how you react to things,” she says. “In watching you, they learn how to respond to questions like, ‘When I’m upset, sad or unfocused, I….{fill in the blank].’”  She strongly advises regulating what you say in front of your child, and also, how you respond to events in your life.

Make time for crazy fun – no tech gadgets allowed! 

Don’t underestimate the power of letting out your inner child when you’re with your kids and just having crazy fun – without fancy toys and electronic gadgets, Dr Liese says. It’s exactly this kind of enthusiastic play, whether it’s building a fort in the backyard, a huge big pillow fight, a tickling contest or even a family relay or treasure hunt, that “propels creativity, develops resilience, combats stress and encourages self-control.”

ALSO SEE: 3 ways to create a safe space for your anxious child

Encourage self-expression

“Being able to express what you feel is an essential part of strong mental health,” says Dr Liese. She explains that many children often struggle to say exactly what they’re thinking or feeling because they don’t have the right words or don’t know how to think in abstract ways. “You can help your little one by encouraging creative activities like drawing, painting and even sculpting things to help release uncomfortable emotions in a non-threatening, safe and supportive way,” she says.

ALSO SEE: Dos and don’ts of handling your child’s first emotional milestones

Connect – don’t, correct

“See your child’s behaviour as his way of communicating his inner world,” Dr Liese adds. If your child is behaving badly – throwing tantrums, hitting and shouting, or being excessively clingy, she suggests trying to focus on what could be driving his behaviour. Is he feeling scared you’re going to get sick, is he angry because you’re busy all the time and he wants to show you his picture? “If he’s struggling to process “big” feelings, use connection to help support him in regulating his behaviour,” she says. “This could involve a warm hug with a few encouraging words in a caring and calm tone.”

Snuggles and cuddles help – a lot

Dr Liese stresses that your child perceives you as his safety net, “a safe haven from which he can teeter back and forth for emotional refueling and protection.” During times of change and heightened stress, like we’re all going through right now during COVID-19, she says it’s normal for your child to be emotionally demanding. Her advice is to “use supportive methods to make him feel more secure.” This, she says, could involve practising breathing and relaxation exercises together, or even just snuggling and reading a book together.

Routines matter

Dr Liese says children crave consistency and structure in their lives. Both, she notes, communicate safety and predictability. “Besides daily routines, an age-appropriate sleep schedule and a healthy diet are crucial for their mental health, as is daily exercise, sunshine and socialising – even if it’s is over FaceTime or Zoom.”

“Children can never be completely shielded from life’s challenges, but we as parents can try make use of these strange days we’re living through to help make our children more resilient and willing to step out into an ever-changing world,” Dr Liese says.

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