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April 27, 2020

How to Avoid Passing Coronavirus Anxiety on to Your Kids

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has everyone unsettled, but parents should only share age-appropriate concerns with their children. Jennifer Katzenstein, Ph.D., director of psychology and neuropsychology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, offers tips to manage your anxiety around your children.

How does our anxiety impact our kids?

Witnessing a parent in anxiety can unsettle kids, who look to parents for information and guidance on how to respond to situations. If we respond in an anxious, fearful state, then our children are likely to feel unsafe and upset too. We must try to stay calm and not let our anxiety guide our behaviors.

What techniques can I use to calm myself down and communicate a sense of calmness?

Notice how your body feels when you are stressed. Our hearts race, our hands get sweaty, we may feel chest pain, and feel shaky. Take a few deep breaths. Identify your anxiety or other feelings, and rationalize the situation. Use calming language and try to maintain a calm demeanor. Try to avoid raising your voice.

How can I model good anxiety management for my kids?

It is OK to show our kids our emotions. It’s even better if you can explain why you reacted the way you did, and then outline steps you can take to change the way you managed the situation.

How much information should I provide?

  • Even young kids overhear conversations and news reports, so be sure to provide accurate information from reliable sources.
  • Children say that they find local news that they do not understand to be more frightening than scary fairy tales or even horror movies. Ask them if they have questions or concerns about the situation. Work hard to clarify their understandings.
  • Protect your family members and let the children know how they can protect themselves and others. Follow health professionals’ rules for social distancing and hygiene.
  • Even young children can calmly understand illnesses. Let them know at an appropriate developmental level how COVID-19 can be passed on to others, that most people do not become very sick, and that health professionals are working hard to take care of the very ill in isolated settings.
  • Resources on how to protect your family are available at the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, state, regional and local offices of public health and your child’s health care providers.

For more pediatric healthcare information, you can check out On Call for All Kids, a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital experts.

Visit HopkinsAllChildrens.org/Stories each Monday for the latest report. 

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