Helping Your Children Adapt to the New Routine

— Written By Julie Lyvers
en Español / em Português

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As an adult, do you ever feel stressed or anxious during the day? Do you ever have that feeling last longer than you expected? Does the anxiety make you irritable, not sleep, moody, fatigue, have brain fog? Anxiety stems from feeling like you are not in control of the situation and can lead to feelings of fear and insecurity.

Children today are facing a lot of stress and COVID-19 has added more stress to their plate. As parents, we need to be able to detect the changes in their behavior, because as we know younger ones cannot always say what is going on and older ones may not want to talk about it.

Here is a list of signs to be aware of in younger children:

  • Not sleeping or waking up from bad dreams
  • Not eating properly
  • Fidgety or being clingy
  • Using the toilet often
  • Crying
  • Irritable or being out of control during outbursts
  • Constant worrying or negative thoughts

For older children, they may be

  • Feeling fatigue or complaining about back/stomach aches
  • Putting up mental walls
  • Not sleeping
  • Moody, irritable, short tempered, argumentative

Your child’s body is reacting to the stress it is under. The body reacts to stress in four different areas. First there is the physical reaction. Under stress, the body mobilizes to respond to the threat of sudden change and the brain releases chemicals to prepare the body to either fight or flee. Even if the person is not in physical danger the body responds in the same way. With stress or anxiety, this produces fatigue, dry mouth, loss of appetite, headaches, or even dizziness. Second is the behavioral reaction, any change in your child’s behavior can mean he/she is experiencing stress. This behavior change can be anywhere from emotional outburst, avoiding others, increased need to stay busy, increased family conflicts, or decrease in grades. Next are the emotional reactions which can be in waves. This is stemmed from the feeling of worthlessness or hopelessness. So your child may experience feelings of depression, helplessness, irritability, anger, fear, or guilt-why did it not happen to me, or sadness. Last are the cognitive reactions. When a person’s cognitive ability is effected it spans from poor memory to hypervigilance. A person can also have lack of concentration (day dreaming) or poor decision making which can lead to the inability of making a good judgment.

There are two major ways of coping with stress/anxiety. First, some people practice the avoidance strategy. This means use a distraction for not dealing with the stress. They can limit the time with the topic that brings on the stress by taking a vacation, going for a walk, or some other type of distraction for them to think of something else. Some may avoid not wanting to talk about it or they withdraw from socializing (either one is fine as long as it is not for a long period of time). While others will overeat or overspend to avoid feeling stressed. The second strategy is control. With this strategy, a person becomes proactive and works on what he can control. The person recognizes what is causing the stress and then makes a list of choices. Then determines if they can do something about it and organizes a plan. For example, the Coronavirus, we can recognize it brings a change to our routine and look at the option of ways to prevent from getting it or spreading it. The easiest options to prevent from getting it are social distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands often.

As parents who have gone through stressful times, whether it was divorce, financial problems, or a death in the family, we know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We look back on the event and wonder how we got through it, but we are stronger and wiser for the next event. We need to be there for our children during their stressful times and reassure them that what they are feeling is only temporary and things will be better.

There are a few ways parents can help their children. The first way to help is to get them to communicate about what is causing the stress/anxiety and acknowledge it. The child can talk to us or another adult, keep a journal of the stress and solutions, or even express their feelings artistically. Second, parents can model how they deal with stress to their children. Most of what children learn is from observing others. Third, “filter” the information children are receiving about the event. Too much can sometimes be overwhelming. Ask them questions about what they have heard and what they are understanding about the event. This can be used as a guide to know when they will need more information.

Parents help your children feel safe. Put things in perspective for your child. Avoid exaggerated words like “the worst ever” or “nothing helps”. Don’t make false promises about when things will happen. Just give your child a hug. Research has shown young children need a lot of hugs per day. Even preteens need about 5 hugs a day. If you are concerned about the psychological well-being of your child, reach out for help.