Navigating Kids’ Anxiety About COVID Restrictions Ending—Tips From Pediatric Experts

Pediatric experts from Connecticut Children’s share the best ways for parents to approach reopenings. Photo courtesy of Connecticut Children's.
Pediatric experts from Connecticut Children’s share the best ways for parents to approach reopenings. Photo courtesy of Connecticut Children's.

With more and more COVID-19 restrictions being lifted and masks becoming optional inside most Connecticut schools, parents and children are navigating big changes for what feels like the millionth time in the last two years. Understandably, for some kids, this new chapter may bring on what’s known as “re-entry anxiety”—a sense of fear or uneasiness that can accompany the return to our pre-pandemic normal.

To get a handle on the best way for parents to approach these reopenings while minimizing anxiety, we connected with the only health system in the state that’s 100% dedicated to kids, Connecticut Children’s. Their pediatric psychologists provided helpful tips for navigating the difficult emotions that can come with this new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, and offered up some handy resources you’ll definitely want to bookmark.

Try wellness apps to help your kids handle big emotions.

“When your young child has big feelings in their little body, they may not know what to do about it,” explains Melissa Santos, PhD, Connecticut Children’s division head of Pediatric Psychology. That includes feeling anxious or fearful as COVID-19 guidelines change yet again. The good news? “There are lots of apps out there designed to help support kids’ emotions,” says Santos.

For example, breathing and meditation apps like Calm and Breathe to Relax help children slow down when they’re feeling uneasy. For kids who need to burn energy to cope with big feelings, there are fitness and yoga apps like SWorkIt for Kids. And to help support emotional and physical health, there are apps for sleep tracking, hydration monitoring, and even mindful eating. Here are all of Santos’ favorites.

Ideally, try out these apps before your child needs them, so that they have some tools on hand should their feelings intensify.

“You don’t want to wait until your child is in a crisis,” says Santos. “Instead, try out different apps when they’re feeling calm.” Do the apps along with your child to model your own healthy coping skills, and talk about how you feel before and after. (Adults are likely to find the exercises helpful too!)

Learn how to manage your own big emotions around your kids.

Speaking of modeling, how we manage our own negative emotions in front of our children is an important part of parenting–but don’t confuse that with always putting on a brave face or never letting your kids see you upset. The COVID-19 pandemic has weighed heavy on parents and, hey, we’re only human.

“It can be exhausting for parents to constantly keep it together,” says Connecticut Children’s pediatric psychologist Kelly Maynes, PsyD. “You’re human, and you have emotions. Your child should be able to see that.” Plus, says Maynes, you can use those moments to model healthy ways to express and cope with difficult emotions.

The next time you’re upset, Maynes suggests narrating your experience to your child: “These are the emotions that I’m feeling. This is how I’m feeling in my body. And this is why.”

This type of narration will help your child understand how you’re feeling and show them a strategy they can use the next time they’re experiencing a big emotion. “Simply naming our emotions can have a calming effect,” says Maynes.

If you and your child are feeling similarly, try coping together.

It’s very possible that you and your child are both feeling stress and uncertainty on the brink of uncharted pandemic territory. If you’re experiencing similar emotions right now, you have an opportunity to cope together.

“Talk to your child about different ways to practice self-care,” says Maynes. “Ask what they think might be a nice way to navigate these tough times. Write down their ideas and suggest trying each one together to see what helps the most.”

Read up on how to talk with kids about COVID-19.

With re-entry and reopenings, we’ll continue to see COVID-19 cases here and there, which may also trigger anxiety in kids. If your child–or someone in your family–does catch COVID-19, Connecticut Children’s has guidance on how to talk to children about COVID-19 when someone tests positive. Do your best to stay calm to help minimize any fear that may come up, and follow the advice of your child’s pediatrician and your doctor.

After two years of being taught to safeguard themselves against COVID-19, children may have big feelings about a COVID-19 diagnosis, so invite them to share their honest thoughts with you. Validate their feelings, and offer reassurance to help reduce any self-blame or guilt they may be feeling about being sick.

For more help supporting your child through COVID-19 reopenings and lots of other life changes, check out Connecticut Children's latest resource kit for families, Parenting Through Change. Connecticut Children’s is ranked one of the best children’s hospitals in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and Women’s Choice, and is a Magnet® designated hospital. It provides more than 30 pediatric specialties, conveniently delivered at locations close to home and by Video Visit.

The contents of this article are for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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