8 Tips for Helping Kid’s Mental Health During a Crisis

Our world is facing a daily reality of uncharted waters at the moment. Regardless of other epidemics, the human population has survived, or the low rate of deaths in comparison to infection, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing reality as we know it. And the bottom line is, despite the low death rate to infection rate, the people who have died are just as valuable as those who have survived, and therefore, their deaths are a tragedy. 

This pandemic is causing panic and anxiety worldwide. Not a single continent remains untouched. Just two weeks ago, we could go shopping freely and visit the hair salon. Now, coming from the state of Virginia, we are under a stay-at-home order until June 10th with the risk of a $2500 fine and a year in prison if we violate the order during this crisis situation. We are only permitted to go out for necessities, and everyone at grocery stores now wears masks and gloves. We are scared of standing too close to another person, scared to touch anything in the public, and we are washing our hands constantly until our skin feels tight and dry.

If we, as fully capable and knowledgeable adults, can be filled with such panic and concern, consider how our children must feel.

Emotional stress affects children just as much as it affects adults but in different ways. What we may perceive as a bad attitude, grouchiness, refusal to complete assignments, whining, constant need to cuddle or “hang on mom,” may all be signs of emotional stress. When you are getting started with homeschooling, the stress in children can make your attempts more challenging. Let’s discuss these signs of emotional stress in children and a few suggestions to reduce this anxiety.

Signs of Mental Health Issues and Anxiety in Your Children

This coronavirus pandemic has created a crisis situation worldwide. While certain countries, like China, are beginning to recover, others, like the U.S., are still in the trenches. This virus has made its rounds and affected all of us in different ways. Funerals have been canceled, weddings postponed, bridal showers delayed, birth plans disrupted, vacations derailed, and travel suspended. Beyond that, several states have canceled school through the end of the semester. In Virginia, the stay-at-home order means that children will no longer be able to go visit their friends just to have fun. This crisis situation is a major cause of stress in children and adults. Everyone deals with anxiety to a certain extent, and at a healthy level, it is an important warning sign for us. However, sometimes, situations can cause our anxiety to rise to unhealthy levels. If you’re concerned your child may be struggling with anxiety, here are several signs of unhealthy emotional stress.

  • Irritability. Stress in children can easily make them irritable. To be fair, that’s true for all of us! However, this irritability could be a result of lack of sleep, headaches, and worry in general that is showing itself through an irritable mood.
  • Fatigue. Is your child perhaps harder to wake in the morning? Extra sleepy or showing low energy throughout the day? You know how your child usually behaves, so if this is out of the norm for them, it’s something to take note of.
  • Restlessness. A lot of children are naturally restless, which makes this sign difficult to spot. Stress in children can look subtle if you’re not aware. Is your child more active than usual? Does this sound familiar: they can’t sit still, won’t stop talking, have to always fill the void, they are asking silly questions that don’t even make sense just for the point of hearing their own voice and engaging your reaction… Perhaps they can’t fall asleep and can’t stay asleep. All of these could be the result of increased anxiety in your child.
  • Concentration Issues. Is your child having more trouble than usual staying focused on lessons and easily distracted during assignments? Perhaps they are taking far longer than usual to finish a worksheet? Staring off into space?
  • Insomnia. A lot of these signs go hand-in-hand because they affect each other, both for anxious adults and stress in children during a crisis situation. Restlessness causes insomnia, insomnia causes irritability and fatigue, fatigue affects concentration, which can create more irritability, and so on.
  • Stomachaches. Anxiety can cause physical symptoms, like stomach aches and nausea. This can be somewhat difficult to recognize as you’ll need to use a process of elimination to determine if anything could have caused an upset stomach. Their stomach may even feel sore rather than upset, similar to the soreness a person feels after they have vomited. Sometimes, their nausea may feel akin to the acid build-up nausea people experience if they have gone too long without eating. However, if it is caused by anxiety, a snack will not relieve the upset symptoms. If your child is complaining of a sick or pained stomach and they haven’t ingested anything recently likely to be the cause, take note that it may be anxiety-induced.
  • Trembling. Your child may complain of feeling cold when the temperatures are actually comfortable. They may even continue to feel chilled when wearing plenty of layers. They can’t seem to warm up, but they don’t have a fever. Their fingers may indicate a slight tremor. It’s likely a sign of anxiety being internalized. Alternatively, though less likely in young children, they could start sweating more than usual. Perhaps the palms of their hands just can’t seem to stay dry. They feel too hot in a sweatshirt, but too cold without it. These are all signs to consider.
  • Muscle Tension. Do they have random neck aches? Sore arm muscles? Maybe limping a little? Anxiety can cause muscles to tense up to the point of feeling sore. If your child wakes up with a sore muscle and you can’t think of a possible cause, it may be a sign of emotional stress.

8 Tips for Supporting Your Child’s Mental Health

One of the benefits of homeschooling is the ability to watch our children carefully for emotional stress throughout the day. The fact is, anxiety is not black and white, it does not appear on a schedule, and it’s something that may ruin an enjoyable experience, while not affecting others for days on end. It surfaces at the most inconvenient of times and is usually in situations that are difficult for parents to manage (like grocery shopping!). If you are thinking “can I homeschool my child,” to help with their emotional stress levels, the answer is YES! Homeschooling can be a wonderful option for children with anxiety and is especially helpful in times like now with the crisis situation. Here are eight suggestions to help lower their anxiety levels.

  • Reassure them that they are safe. As parents, we never want our children to feel frightened. Just as you would assure them there aren’t any monsters under their beds, you want to assure them that we are safe, and then practice good hygiene habits to keep healthy.
  • Limit their news exposure. The constant barrage of updates from the news is enough to fill the strongest of us with a sense of doom and panic. If any of us are struggling with anxiety during this crisis situation, we should limit our news intake, and that especially includes our children. This doesn’t mean choosing ignorance, it simply means filtering the constant updates.
  • Let them express their worries. Too often, parents dismiss their children’s worries because they seem so inconsequential or irrelevant to us as adults. However, even if these worries don’t seem like a big deal to us, they are a very big deal to our children and the fear they create in our children is just as real as the fear we feel. Invite them to talk about their worries.
  • Create a daily routine. When trying to reduce emotional stress in children, it is very helpful to create a daily routine. Children thrive on routine under normal circumstances and especially during a crisis situation. If we have found ourselves temporarily off work or staying home more than usual, even adults will do well to create a daily structure. Routine will help give your mind the stability of something on which to depend. That stability itself can keep the anxiety from spiraling. 
  • Share your coping techniques. How do you cope when emotional stress feels overwhelming? Do you take long, slow, deep breaths? Do you meditate? Do you exercise, or focus on something super positive? Whatever your coping strategies are, share these with your children so they can use them when needed.
  • Keep busy (but it’s okay to rest too). Keeping busy is an interesting concept. It can help distract from stress, but sometimes it can be easy to go to the extreme and bury yourself with tasks as a means of escape. It is not healthy to sit and dwell on fear, but neither is it healthy to use busyness as a means of escape. In the end, just try not to pendulum swing. Stay productively busy, but give you and your kids a chance to relax as needed. Otherwise, the constant busyness could backfire and begin creating its own form of stress!
  • Incorporate a quiet time. Similar to coping strategies, and taking time to rest, it can be helpful to incorporate a daily meditation time in your schedule. Whether this is meditation, prayer, or whatever you prefer, it is a quiet time to reflect and just exist in the present. It can be very calming and lay a positive foundation for a good day.
  • Stay in contact. In 2020, quarantine thankfully does not mean being isolated. We have numerous technology options from which to choose for staying connected. Make sure to call your friends and family, FaceTime, or send a message. Staying in contact will help you and your kids feel grounded and less anxious.

Fun Resources for Quarantined Families