The fear response is part of our human nature. Fears and worry reactions to those fears arise uncontrollably within us. Sometimes these instincts serve us well. At other times, they complicate our lives in unproductive or negative ways. Many of the same things that help you manage your fears can help your children manage theirs. Information and coping strategies might have to be expressed in different ways by using age-appropriate language and suggestions. But the children in your life deserve the kind of care that can make the difference between an experience causing traumatic injury to their psyches or a strengthening of their resiliency.
Be as honest as you can. Ask your child what he has heard about an issue and how he feels about it. This gives you a place to start a conversation and the opportunity to correct any misinformation.
Ask questions to make sure he understands and be open to discussion whenever he is. If you do not know the answers to his questions, tell him you will try to find out. And then do so.
Sometimes, as with the worldwide coronavirus situation that’s causing changes to how we live and creating real and serious danger, you may have to help him deal with uncertainty instead of specific answers. That’s okay, too. In fact, it is very important to know how to do this.
Model a calm approach to dealing with an issue. Use common sense when you make decisions. Follow advice of experts. And seek professional help for you or your child if it is needed. Here are a few sample words to say:
- We are in this together, and my priority is to make sure you are safe.
- How do you feel about that? (Then listen. This can be used anytime.)
- What do you think a good response would be? (Allow input if possible.)
- Here are the actions we need to take.
- We are not alone. Many people are dealing with this.
Talking with you and feeling included can help your child communicate his feelings and feel comforted, no matter the topic. Feeling loved and close to you helps him gain the confidence he needs to face everyday life as well as stressful circumstances or conditions. Older children may find security in helping you research ways to deal with anxiety or steps your family can take to prepare for emergencies.
These simple ideas can make it easier to get through the tough times.
- Art materials work for any age. Draw or paint along with your child, if they are receptive to that idea, even if you are only painting the house with a big paint brush and a bucket of water with a 3-year-old.
- Encourage journaling. Writing or drawing on a regular basis is a therapeutic way to work through and process many ideas and feelings.
- Take walks or play outside. Moving can help.
- Use natural materials in your home. Displaying a plant or stones or seashells gives peace whenever you or your child look at them. Let your child examine these and arrange them at will.
- Dough and clay are for more than young children. Search for easy-to-make recipes online.
- Cooking with you teaches about nutrition and provides comfort and life skills.
Sometimes, “play” or “chores” spark serious conversation, but these times are usually a safe outlet for feelings to be expressed and released. Children need that as much as adults do, but allow it to happen naturally. Never force a child to talk or complete these activities. Don’t forget about board games, toys, cards, and crafts. Laughter and appropriate humor can ease tension, too.
Set a routine and keep it going as much as you can to create a feeling of normalcy but show your child how to handle sudden, unavoidable changes and temperamental upsets. If you need guidance on these topics, check books or online resources. Many parents share what works for them in online groups or in comments below parenting articles. There are many choices for pleasurable reading for all ages. Search for “free digital books” for the age and category that you want.
And, keep self-care practices going for you as well as your children. Drink water. Eat healthy food. Exercise. These things help tremendously with health, anxiety, stamina and strength. Have confidence in your parenting skills. You know your child best and how he or she might react. Adjust and adapt any suggestions you find to your unique situation.
If there’s one thing we can learn from the younger members of our families, it’s that life goes on in full, rich, and exciting ways. It may not feel like this is true sometimes, but we only have to take one step, one breath, one day at a time.