Kids with Anxiety Are Getting Even More Anxious

The past two weeks have been triggering for many families. The flu season is elevating and reports of thousands of deaths from the flu are making its way into the Coronavirus conversation around reports of hospitalizations, quarantines and deaths. It is hard to protect kids from these reports as people talk about them everywhere from grocery stores to playgrounds. Today, I will help you address this situation with your children, who may be experiencing higher levels of anxiety than usual in a way that aims to empower them rather than scare them even more than they may already be.

What do I say when they ask questions about this public health emergency?

Over the past month and especially the past two weeks, kids have been asking their parents a lot of questions about Coronavirus and Flu. These conversations have made their way into my office because many of the children that I treat have Anxiety. I thought it could be useful to share what some of their questions have been and some suggestions on how to reply. 

TIPS: prior to answering any of these questions or others they may have, be sure you ask things like:

  • What have you heard?

  • Are friends talking about it?

  • What are your teachers saying?

  • What have you read?

  • What are you worried about?

Sometimes parents go into conversations assuming children know what they know and oftentimes they do not. Your child likely heard bits and pieces and therefore are curious or worried about what they don't know as much as what they do know. Also, given their age and access to media you may alter these responses a bit to suit their level. And if you don't know the answer to a question, that's okay, tell them you will find out and get back to them. You want to be honest, reassuring and while maintaining a sense of normalcy and routine as best as possible.

Commons Questions I Am Hearing From Kids

  • Are we going to get sick?

We are going to do everything we can to avoid getting sick by washing our hands for at least 20 seconds, not touching our faces including eyes, nose and mouth, and we will avoid being around others who we know or suspect are sick. It's also important to eat healthy and sleep well so our immune system is as strong as can be.

  • Should I wear a mask to school?

According to the CDC, whose job it is to keep us all safe by educating us, they do not think we need to wear masks unless you are actively sick and are going to be around other people. 

  • Do we need to get extra food and water?

I assure you that we have everything we need (say this if this is true in your best estimate). Then ask them if there is something in particular they would like to be sure they have. If they have something in mind and it's reasonable, go out and get it. If it's irrational (in your opinion) talk them through it and explain your thoughts about it calmly and and in detail.

  • Could our pet dog get sick? I heard this started with animals.

The Coronavirus is thought to have started from an animal source but now it's spreading between people so doctors think there is a very low chance that animals in the US while get infected. But, just to be safe you can still play and pet dogs, just wash your hands after.

  • Should we cancel our upcoming vacation?

There are travel warnings that we will follow from the CDC and the WHO. We won't go anywhere that we don't feel is safe. If any of us are sick we will stay home. We have to be prepared that we could cancel last minute because everyday we are learning new things. If we do have to cancel, we will reschedule once it is more safe.

  • I am scared of shots so I didn't get a flu shot, what should I do?

When I had a 10 year old ask me this question, we looked it up together and the CDC still suggests that anyone who hasn't had a flu shot still get one as March is within peak flu season. This child is really afraid of needles, and the nasal flu vaccine was no longer available at their pediatrician's office so we came up with a plan to get a shot. The parents and I also discussed that next year he will get a nasal vaccine. 

Final thoughts

Kids are looking to adults in these uncertain times for safety and comfort. In many cases, the degree to which your child gets anxious or upset about these illnesses, politics or other grand scale issues depends on how their parents, caregivers, and teachers are handling things seemingly out of their control. Focus on what you can control, empower your children through educating them and explain to them that life has a lot of plan B's in it. And if one store is out of hand sanitizer or toilet paper- just go to another store! Plan B, or C... it's a good life lesson.

Happy Parenting!

About the author

Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, Psy.D. holds a Doctorate of Psychology, is an Author, Speaker, National Media Contributor, Non-Profit Board Member, Girl Scouts Leader, Girls on the Run Coach and Advocate for children. She has been treating children and families for over twenty years with areas of expertise in anxiety, trauma, divorce, stress management and depression. Dr. Ziegler is the author of the best selling book, Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process, the winner of Best Parenting Book of 2018 as awarded by International Latino Book Awards.

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