7 tips to help children feel less anxious about COVID

USQ clinical psychologist Emma-Leigh Senyard talks about the contagious Delta variant, children and anxiety.

With the highly contagious Delta variant posing a higher risk to young people than previous COVID-19 variants, many children are understandably anxious and might seek reassurance from those around them.

Emma-Leigh Senyard, a clinical psychologist and PhD candidate at the University of Southern Queensland, has been working with children, adolescents and families supporting them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said children in particular were vulnerable to developing anxiety around COVID-19.

“As a parent or caregiver, we can play an important role in supporting children’s anxiety around the Delta outbreak.”

USQEmma-Leigh-SenyardMrs Senyard said parents should consider these tips:

  • Be open and honest: It is important to be open and honest with children about the Delta outbreak, and show that you are listening and available for them. It is okay to answer questions about the Delta outbreak from children, rather than avoid the topic all together, however, this should be done using age-appropriate language. We want to be careful not to “scare” children by providing too much detailed information about the pandemic. Providing only the information the child has asked for, rather than excessive detail, is key.

For example:

Child: What is the Delta outbreak?

Adult: “The Delta outbreak is more contagious than previous outbreaks, but we are really unlikely to get unwell, especially if we stay at home while we have to, and follow all the directions from our government if we need to leave the house, like social distancing.”

Child: What if I get COVID-19?

Adult: “If you are unwell, we will do what we usually do and be seen by a doctor, who might ask us to have a COVID-19 test. We will follow directions given to us to wait at home until we have the result. Most of the time, the result is negative and we will do what we usually do when you have a cold or flu. If the result is positive, we will follow the directions given to us and isolate until you are better and no longer have COVID-19.”

Child: Will I die if I get COVID-19?

Adult: “I can hear that you are really worried about COVID-19 and what happens if people get it. People do die from COVID-19, but actually most people recover fully from COVID-19. It is really unlikely for a young, fit and healthy person to die from COVID-19.”

  • Validate feelings and provide reassurance: Many children are anxious about COVID-19 and its impacts. It is important to recognise, validate and normalise the child’s anxiety in a non-judgmental way, so the child doesn’t feel alone and understands their anxiety is normal. Providing an appropriate amount of reassurance can help ease child anxiety around the Delta outbreak. However, be careful not to provide an excessive amount of reassurance (i.e. continually telling the child they will be “okay” multiple times a day), which can actually make the child’s anxiety worse.

For example:

“I can see that you’re feeling worried about the Delta outbreak. Many children your age are. However, we know that if we follow the rules of staying at home when we need to and social distancing, mask-wearing and washing our hands if we are out of home, we know that it is very unlikely that we will get COVID-19.”

  • Be factual: There is much misinformation and inconsistency in the world about the outbreak, vaccines etc. Children may be more vulnerable to believing stories and opinions about COVID-19 that may be misleading, anxiety-provoking and untrue. Advising children that you are available to have open conversations about the things they have heard, and that not everything they hear may be true, allows the child a safe space to discuss their concerns.
  • Maintaining consistent and predictable routines: The pandemic has been far from predictable, making routines hard to maintain. We know that anxiety reduces if we have consistent, predictable daily routines. Maintaining a routine as if it is no different to a typical school day will help ease children’s anxiety associated with the Delta outbreak. For example, waking at the same time each morning, following the same morning routine, having breaks around the same time the child would at school and following similar afternoon and evening routines including bedtime.
  • Limit media exposure: News and information on the pandemic is constantly heard and seen on multiple platforms (i.e. radio, television, social media etc.) that it is hard to avoid. The media can exacerbate children’s anxiety, especially if overly exposed. As such, avoid having the news on in the family or lounge room whilst children are around, and listening to the radio around children.
  • Quality time: Children love getting our attention. Spending quality time with your child/children during the Delta outbreak at home, not only enhances your connection and attachment, but also provides a distraction from the current world events. Quality time only has to be a few minutes where you are fully engaged (no distractions!) with your child each day. Quality over quantity.
  • Social engagement: One of the hardest things for children about home learning is the lack of social engagement, especially for children without siblings. Organising supervised, social virtual calls and games with other known children is highly important for children’s anxiety and mental health.