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Managing Our Stress and Assisting Our Children
Dr. David Botkin, Director of Student Services
Managing Stress and Assisting Our Children with their Anxiety

Emotions typically are helpful to us as we cope with our day to day lives. Anxiety is one of those emotions because it encourages us to be extra careful when we sense danger. Yet, excessive anxiety is not helpful. As we now face the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), keeping our fears manageable will keep us performing at our best.

We have all been inundated with lots of information on the nature of the virus, and we understand that medical knowledge is changing daily. Closing schools, canceling large gatherings and sporting events, and maintaining social distance helps to slow the spread of the disease while the medical community ramps up its capacity and its expertise for dealing with those who do catch it. Information that reassures us of the safety of our children is important to remember because if our anxiety becomes too great, then it overwhelms us, and instead of keeping us safe, it brings on new dangers like incapacitation, poor judgment, and overreaction.

So how can we manage our own stress and assist our children in coping with their anxiety?

While knowledge of the risks is important, flooding ourselves with the constant stream of information that we get from the 24-hour news channels and other media outlets is not helpful. Turn off the TV news, don’t watch every turn of the stock market, and instead, listen to music, read a book, engage in a hobby, watch a movie, have a game night, and communicate with friends on other topics. We really don’t need a constant barrage of stressful reminders.

We and our children should take care of our health and maintain our routines as best we can. We should exercise, sleep well, and eat a healthy diet. If we should start to feel ill, we should follow the prime medical recommendation, which is to contact your primary care doctor by phone or call the Coronavirus hotline (dial 2-1-1 in St. Joseph County) that is set up for those without a doctor. Those medical providers will guide our next steps.

For our young children (perhaps 10 and under depending upon their sophistication and personal propensity for anxiety) we should limit their access to information they cannot accurately process and integrate. We should give them a minimized message regarding the illness and the need for school to be closed for a short time while stressing the importance of washing hands and coughing into their elbows whenever they are around others. We can explain it as very similar to other illnesses they have already had. Routines for children are particularly reassuring. Maintain family schedules including mealtimes, bedtime rituals, and chores. Not only will distance learning activities continue their academic growth, but it can also help manage their stress and anxiety by providing routine and structure. And we need to remember that for these young children their anxiety will be a direct reflection of the anxiety expressed by their mom and dad. Calm parents make for calm children.

Older children who have access to independent sources of information may need more frank discussions about the risks and the health of loved ones. A good place to start is by asking them what they know of the virus. They may have misinformation that needs correction. We need to limit their overexposure as well while answering their questions with the reassurance that they are going to be fine given the nature of this outbreak, the precautions being taken now, and their access to good medical care should they ever need it.

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About the Author

David Botkin

David Botkin

Director of Student Services

  • parenting

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