How to Reduce Your Child's Lingering Pandemic Stress

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Living in the COVID-19 pandemic is stressful on all of us. However, research tells us that children are particularly at risk for adverse impacts. As the pandemic lingers on, you may notice that your child's stress levels have continued to rise instead of improve. Aside from all the changes and disruptions that kids experienced early on, the fear of the unknown can create stress for kids.

After all, no one knows for sure when things will really get back to normal. Plus, just when case counts seem to be settling down, a new surge seems to begin again. Even heading back to school after learning at home for so long can cause a great deal of stress.

If your child is continuing to experience stress related to the pandemic, there are things you can do to help alleviate those feelings. Here's how to identify stress, address your child's fears, and help them manage their stress. Together, you can make life a little more manageable for all of you during these challenging times.

Signs of Stress in Children

According to the World Health Organization, children may respond to stress in different ways. They may become more clingy, anxious, angry, withdrawn, or agitated. Some may even 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/juuling (in teens)

How to Address Your Child's Fears

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), 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. Make sure you 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 when things will get back to normal, 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. Likewise, if your child hears something on the news or from friends that is upsetting, be sure to 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 make sure you are offering lots of hugs and reminding them that you are there for them. Remember, it can be really stressful to still be so limited in what they can and cannot do. Even though what they are going through is stressful, it can be calming and reassuring to know that they are loved despite it all.

8 Strategies to Reduce Lingering Stress

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

For this reason, parents need to take steps to help their kids cope with this stress in healthy ways. Here are some ways you can help your kids cope with lingering stress from the pandemic.

Maintain a Regular Routine

Although creating a routine seems like a simple solution, research has shown that creating routines has been linked to social and academic success. More importantly, routines can build resilience during times of crisis. So, don't overlook how having a daily routine can benefit your child and alleviate stress. If you already have a routine, be sure you maintain it.

Be Realistic About School

Perhaps nothing has been disrupted more by COVID-19 than education. Kids have been thrust into online learning environments with little preparation, and many of those who are in school must manage wearing masks and social distancing while trying to learn at the same time.

So, make sure 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 take place. Their 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 teens 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 your kids reduce stress.

Find Creative Ways to Connect With Others

Being disconnected from friends and family for a long period of time is very stressful for young people. Make sure you are looking for ways to continue to connect with people that you are separated from. With people getting vaccinated, these opportunities may become more and more accessible.

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 wearing masks and social distancing when you are around people outside of your household.

Model How to Manage Stress

Kids look to parents to determine how they should respond in any given situation. As a result, make sure you are managing your own stress levels effectively. Demonstrate how to manage stress through mindfulness, exercise, breathing exercises, and healthy eating.

Provide Them With Some Control

So much related to the pandemic is outside of your child's control. Consequently, look for things they can control. You might allow them to rearrange their room, choose where you're going to get takeout that week, or pick out plants for the family garden. Giving your kids a chance to make decisions or control some things will leave them feeling empowered and like they can take charge of some things in their lives.

Encourage a Growth Mindset

While it's important to acknowledge that the pandemic has created many challenges and disappointments, this does not mean that you and your child need to live in that disappointment. Instead, encourage your child to develop a growth mindset when it comes to the pandemic. Ask them to look for things that they have learned or how they have grown. They may even be able to find some positives that have occurred too, like spending time with family.

Seek Professional Support

Sometimes a child will need more support than what 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 mental health professional. The sooner your child receives professional support, the less likely their condition will become severe.

If your child has suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 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 though the United States has made a lot of progress in responding to the pandemic, including beginning its vaccination program, it still may be some time before things begin to feel normal again.

Consequently, it can feel like the pandemic is dragging on and on to children and teens, which can cause the stress they felt in the beginning to linger. Even as things begin to feel normal—like returning to school—kids can still experience high stress levels.

Make sure you regularly communicate with your kids about their stress levels and do what you can to help them manage the stress they are feeling. Reminding them that you are there for them and that you love them while instilling good stress management strategies can help your child cope.

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

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8 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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