Coronavirus Anxiety: 5 Tips To Help Your Kids Cope
The first time it happened, I was on a late-night Zoom call with a group of friends. We were debating the best episodes of “The Office” in a March Madness style bracket and getting way too intense about the character arcs and plot lines of each episode (and if you want to get into that discussion with me, I will fight anyone over why “The Injury” is a better episode than “Stress Relief,” but that’s a discussion for another time). I was joking and arguing with the group when my youngest son came running into the family room crying. He jumped on the couch next to me, his heart was racing, his eyes were glazed over, and he was talking but wasn’t making any sense. I closed my laptop and pulled my nine-year-old into my arms, trying to console him.
We finally got him to calm down a little, but he was still paralyzed with fear. He clung tightly to his dad and asked to be carried back upstairs. My boys are 11 and nine, so we haven’t carried our kids or had them sleep in our bed for quite some time, but that night, he insisted on sleeping right between my husband and I, gripping onto both of us as hard as he could.
Things seemed to be back to normal in the morning. My son was ready to talk about his nightmare, and my husband (brilliantly) asked him if he would be willing to draw it for us. What he showed us was upsetting. Monsters towering over him as he laid on the ground. The label under his body said, “my corpse.” My heart broke for him. I hated the thought of him being so scared, but it was just a nightmare and it was behind us now. I was wrong.
The next night, like clockwork, my son came running downstairs into the family room while my husband and I were watching TV. It was a repeat of the night before — crying, shaking, rapid heartbeat, and talking complete nonsense. It was the same nightmare, back to torment my son. Another night of fear and terrible sleep with the nine-year-old tossing and turning between us. This had to stop.
This was way out of my parenting comfort zone, so I reached out to an amazing group of people for advice — our pastor, my mother-in-law who is a licensed counselor and my son’s therapist. They all agreed that this recurring nightmare was likely the cause of increased anxiety and fear surrounding the Coronavirus.
I compiled some of the advice that worked for us in navigating and overcoming the recurring nightmare, but want to preface it with this...I’m no expert, and what worked for my kid may not work for yours. That being said, these tips may help if your kiddo is struggling with anxiety during this time. Also, I’m a huge proponent of seeking the help of a professional and have no shame in the fact that my youngest has been seeing an amazing counselor for several years. If you or a member of your family needs someone to talk to, please take the time to find a professional in your area. Even if you aren’t able to physically go to an office right now, technology has made it possible to receive these services in your own home, so please look into it.
All of that being said, here’s what worked for us:
Draw a new ending
Having our son draw his dream was really helpful. It allowed him to express himself and for us to see what was going on in his head. My mother-in-law suggested having him redraw the nightmare with a happy ending. In the new version, we found out that the monsters were just misunderstood and were actually trying to save him from the coronavirus. When those scary thoughts started to creep into his head, we were able to talk about the new version of the dream and it made him feel better.
Family drawing time
Our counselor suggested a family drawing exercise to help everyone talk about their Coronavirus fears. Each person starts by drawing what the Coronavirus would look like as a cartoon character. One of my son’s hates drawing because he doesn’t think he’s good at it, so make sure everyone knows that it can be stick figures - it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. Next, you draw a picture of yourself and how you’re feeling about the Coronavirus. Label where on your body you feel these feelings. Does it make your heartbeat more quickly? Does it make your stomach hurt? Does it make your body shake with fear? Label those areas. Then the last step is deciding what you would do to the Coronavirus character. It can be a drawing of what you would do to it, or you can physically rip up the paper, burn it, throw it away, etc. One of my kids wanted to throw the Coronavirus in acid to destroy it and the other wanted to punch it because he said it would be satisfying to get to physically touch it. This was a great way for everyone to talk about their feelings in a way that was easier for the kids to communicate.
Let them talk
My youngest is a talker. It doesn’t matter the subject; he will find a way to talk circles around it. As a busy mom, it can be hard to take the time to listen and engage with him because, let’s be honest, sometimes a non-stop talker can be exhausting. My pastor, who is a great friend and knows our family well, knows this about my son. He suggested, making sure to give him time to talk. Just giving my son one-on-one time to talk about whatever his heart desires. We started incorporating this into our afternoon walk around the neighborhood, and I know many families are taking those kinds of walks too. Use that time to let your child talk. You will be amazed at what comes out of their mouths. Giving my kids the time and space to just say whatever is on their minds made a huge difference and I learned a ton about what has been going through their minds during this shelter in place order.
Document this time
Our counselor provided us a link to a Coronavirus time capsule. There are a ton of them out there, I’m sure, but this is the one we used. My older son had to do this as a school project and my youngest worked through it at the same time. It covers so much and all in a way that helps kids process their feelings. This will also be a great way for us to look back on this historic time and remember what we went through and felt.
Screens off before bedtime
I didn’t think this advice would pay off as well as it did, but I can say that I wholeheartedly endorse it. We had several people tell us to make sure screen time was cut off at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Working from home and going through e-learning is difficult and stressful. My husband and I were guilty of letting everyone veg out on screens at the end of the day, mostly from pure exhaustion. I think that’s why I was skeptical of following this suggestion — I didn’t want it to be true! We have enforced the 30-minute cut-off and it has helped a lot. I’m no scientist, but I’m guessing it gives their minds some time to decompress from the stimulation of the screens. It’s also another opportunity to let the kids talk and get things off their mind before they lay down for bed.
I hope these tips help you as much as they have helped our family. This has been a challenging time with extreme emotions and having a support system, even from afar, has been an incredible blessing. Please don’t feel like you have to struggle through these feelings alone. Use the amazing technology at our fingertips to reach out for help.
Afton Spriggs is a working mom of two boys, Jude and Beckett. She and her husband, Ryan, are lifelong Metro-East residents. Afton spent most of her career working in digital content for traditional media companies (TV news, magazine and radio) and now works at a digital marketing agency in St. Louis. She loves sports, trying new recipes and traveling.