How to Reduce Your Child's Lingering Pandemic Stress

stressed out young child holding stuffed animal

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Living through the COVID-19 pandemic was stressful for everyone. However, research shows that children were particularly at risk for adverse impacts. Even as pandemic fears ebb, you may notice that your child's stress levels have continued to rise instead of improving. Aside from all the changes and disruptions that kids experienced early on, the fear of the unknown may have created additional stress for them.

While in many ways life has slowly returned to normal, new surges and variants can set off a new round of pandemic stress. If your child is continuing to experience stress related to the pandemic, you can help alleviate those feelings.

Here's how to identify your child's emotions, address their fears, and help them manage stress. Coping with and healing from the pandemic is an ongoing process and kids need the support of their parents and caregivers.

Signs of Stress in Children

Children respond to stress differently. They may become more clingy, anxious, angry, withdrawn, or agitated. Some may have issues with bedwetting. Here are some other possible signs that your child is experiencing stress:

  • Acting out or being irritable (in teens)
  • Avoiding school or performing poorly
  • Difficulty concentrating, focusing, or paying attention
  • Excessive crying or irritation (in younger children)
  • Excessive worry, fears, or sadness
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Regressing to outgrown behaviors
  • Unexplained headaches, stomachaches, or other types of body pain
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Using alcohol, drugs, or vaping (in teens)

How to Address Your Child's Fears

Children often look to their parents for physical and emotional safety. When kids are experiencing a great deal of stress, parents need to focus on reassuring their kids that they are there for them and will get through these challenges together.

Acknowledge Your Child's Feelings

It's normal for your child or teen to be upset about the changes they have experienced or that they are still limited in what they are allowed to do. Validate their feelings first, then explain why there are still some restrictions on activities.

Be Honest

If your child has questions about the pandemic or what happens next, answer those questions simply and honestly. Acknowledge that while people are still getting sick, scientists have developed vaccines to help protect people from the disease and medicines to treat it. Likewise, if your child hears something on the news or from friends that is upsetting, address those concerns openly and honestly.

Offer Extra Hugs

When kids are stressed or upset, it helps them to know that they are loved unconditionally. So offer lots of hugs and remind them that you are there for them. Remember, it can be really stressful not to know how we are moving forward. It is reassuring to know that you love them despite it all.

8 Strategies to Reduce Lingering Stress

Fear, uncertainty, and stress can have a significant impact on kids. Research shows that kids exposed to chronic stress may be at risk for adverse health outcomes in adulthood, such as depression, cancer, asthma, and cardiovascular disease.

So it's important to take steps to help kids cope with stress in healthy ways. These strategies may help children and teens manage lingering stress from the pandemic.

Maintain a Regular Routine

Research has linked routines with social and academic success. More importantly, routines can build resilience during times of crisis. So, don't overlook a predictable daily routine to benefit your child and alleviate stress. Knowing what to expect is very reassuring. If you already have a routine, be sure you maintain it.

Be Realistic About School

Perhaps nothing was more disrupted by COVID-19 than education. Kids returned to the classroom after months of online learning while wearing masks and social distancing. While these practices are no longer so prevalent, time spent outside the school environment, along with frequent changes to routines and practices, made reentry more difficult.

So, ensure you're not putting too much pressure on your kids to experience the same level of success they had before the pandemic. Recognize that there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding school, and some adjustments must occur. Kids' and teens' stress levels may interfere with their success as well.

Get Outside Often

A recent study indicates that when kids between the ages of 10 and 18 were outside and participated in outdoor activities during COVID-19, they experienced a smaller decline in their well-being than those that did not participate in outdoor activities. Look for ways to get outside with your kids as often as possible, such as walking, biking, or hiking together. Even throwing a frisbee at the park could help reduce kids' stress.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines have relaxed for fully vaccinated people, it is still important for kids and adults who are unvaccinated to follow CDC guidelines. This includes getting boosters as recommended and staying up to date on COVID-19 news and regulations.

Model How to Manage Stress

Kids look to parents to determine how they should respond in any given situation. Ensure you manage your own stress levels effectively. Demonstrate how to manage stress through mindfulness, exercise, breathing exercises, healthy eating, and restful sleep.

Provide Kids With Some Control

So much related to the pandemic was outside of your child's control. Providing them with situations they can control can help them feel better. You might allow them to rearrange their room, choose where you will get takeout that week, or pick out plants for the family garden. Giving your kids a chance to make decisions helps them feel empowered.

Encourage a Growth Mindset

It's important to acknowledge that the pandemic created many challenges and disappointments. But this does not mean that you and your child should hold on to that disappointment.

Instead, encourage your child to develop a growth mindset regarding the pandemic. Ask them to look for things that they learned or how they grew. They may even be able to find some positives that occurred, too, like spending time with family.

Seek Professional Support

Sometimes a child needs more support than a parent can offer. If your child is experiencing more than just a little stress, has difficulty coping, or is exhibiting signs of depression or another mental health condition, contact your child's doctor or a mental health professional. Prompt professional support reduces the risk of complications.

If your child has suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Even as the biggest impacts of the pandemic recede, kids can still experience high stress levels. Regularly communicate with your child about their stress levels and do what you can to help them manage their feelings. Remind them that you are there for them and that you love them, and help them learn good stress management strategies

If you find that even with your help, your child still isn't handling stress very well, talk to their doctor or contact a mental health professional for help.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19: Helping children cope.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Parenting in a pandemic: tips to keep calm at home.

  4. Johnson SB, Riley AW, Granger DA, Riis J. The science of early life toxic stress for pediatric practice and advocacyPediatrics. 2013;131(2):319-327. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-0469

  5. Arlinghaus KR, Johnston CA. The importance of creating habits and routineAm J Lifestyle Med. 2018;13(2):142-144. doi:10.1177/1559827618818044

  6. Jackson SB, Stevenson KT, Larson LR, Peterson MN, Seekamp E. Outdoor activity participation improves adolescents’ mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemicInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(5):2506. doi:10.3390/ijerph18052506

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for COVID-19.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.