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How to Avoid Passing Coronavirus Anxiety on to Your Kids

Posted on Apr 06, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has everyone unsettled, but parents should be careful to only share age-appropriate concerns with their children. On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D., director of psychology and neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, offers tips on managing your anxiety around your children.

Right now this is a big question. How does our anxiety impact our kids? 

Witnessing a parent in anxiety can be unsettling for kids. Kids look to parents for information and to help guide how they should be responding to situations, and if we are responding in an anxious state and fearful, then our children are likely to feel unsafe and to be upset too. It is painful to think that even despite our best intentions, we are passing along our anxiety, but we must try to stay calm and not let our anxiety guide our behaviors.  

What techniques can I use to calm myself down and communicate a sense of calmness? 

Notice how your body feels when you are stressed. Our hearts race, our hands get sweaty, we may feel chest pain, and feel shaking. You have to calm your body down. Take a few deep breaths. Identify your anxiety or other feelings, and rationalize the situation. Use calming language and try to maintain a calm demeanor. Try to avoid raising your voice. 

How can I model good anxiety management for my kids? 

It is OK to show our kids our emotions. Even better if you can explain why you reacted the way you did, and then outlining steps you would have taken to change your behavior or the way you managed the situation. 

How much information should I provide? 

  • For children of all ages, make certain to provide accurate information from reliable sources. 
  • Recognize that even young kids overhear conversations and news reports. 
  • Children say that they find local news that they do not understand to be more frightening than scary fairy tales or even horror movies. Because of this, make sure to ask them if they have questions or concerns about the situation. Work hard to clarify their understandings. 
  • Of course, protect your children and family members and let the children know how they can protect themselves and others. Guides and rules for social distance and hygiene and consulting with health care professionals should be followed. 
  • Even young children can calmly understand illnesses. Let them know at an appropriate developmental level how COVID-19 can be passed on to others, that most people do not become very sick, and that health professionals will be working hard to take care of the very ill in isolated settings.  
  • Resources for keeping current on how to protect oneself and children are available at the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, state, regional and local offices of public health and your child’s health care providers who are being informed by their national professional organizations and the government.  
On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report. You also can explore more advice from Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D.  

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