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Top Tips to Reduce Anxiety in Children during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Bronwyn MacFarlane
Bronwyn MacFarlane, Professor of Education in the College of Education and Health Professionals, is a 2019 Faculty Excellence winner for Research and Creative Endeavors. Photo by Ben Krain.

With many families both working and going to school at home, the COVID-19 pandemic can be a stressful time for families, especially those with young children who may be worried about a global health crisis. 

Dr. Bronwyn MacFarlane, a professor in the School of Education at UA Little Rock, has compiled some great tips for parents who are worried about their children’s anxiety.

“The pandemic has led to a complicated time in society, but it’s important for children to talk about their thoughts and ideas with adults and for adults to structure their children’s days with positive activities. It’s a very important time to think of the cohesive delivery of the distance learning experience for all children.”

While many parents are focused on their children’s education and wellbeing, MacFarlane said it’s also a good time for parents to consider and look into expanding their own education, since adults who are actively in engaged in learning are often more excited about helping their children learn.   

“At UA Little Rock, we’ve been a leader for years in online education,” she said. “It’s a good time for adults who want to learn new skills to take online classes.”

MacFarlane’s top six tips to reduce anxiety in children during the pandemic:

  1. Write plans

Making plans and writing out plans helps us to be prepared and be calm. Parents can sit down with their children and draft a plan, talk about their child’s ideas, and write down their thoughts. Parents should speak in a moderate way to calm a child’s anxiety. Writing plans not only helps us to be prepared, it also gives us a sense of calm for each day. When people write down their thoughts, it can help to ease anxiety of what is going on in one’s mind.

  1. Follow a routine

After you write a plan for the day, you need to execute that routine for the day. Routines shouldn’t change that much from day to day so that children can know what to expect, and it helps them stay on a schedule. The daily routine should include ideas for meals and recess breaks in addition to their academic pursuits. Children at school know what they will be eating for lunch, so we should plan for those things as well to provide some variety.

They can plan their routine for the day with specific times for learning, eating, and play. Children can keep a journal of their plans for this time in a notebook, along with personal notes to serve as a journal and memoir during this time. Parents who are working at home may consider structuring the planned schedule so that everyone is working independently at the same time or working together at other times of the day. That makes it more orderly to know when everyone is working quietly at home and when family members will be interacting together.

While it’s important to provide a routine, be sure to mix it up with different games, different walking routes, new recipes, and trying new activities. If we can find contentment in different activities at home, that can help provide spice to the routine while staying at home.

  1. Take steps to be safe

In conversations with kids, adults can help children understand that they are part of the solution. You may remember Mr. Rogers used to say, “Look for the helpers.” You can tell your kids how they can be the helpers in this situation. They can practice good hygiene, review safety steps about handwashing, and help keep the house clean.

Since we are all cleaning around the home, small children can help with smaller tasks, like folding laundry. Older children can help with wiping down door knobs, cooking, cleaning dishes, etc. It’s a good time to think about those tasks, build them into the routine, and change them up as the days go by so children won’t get tired with chores.

After the Spanish flu of 1918, many schools started recognizing good hygiene habits with awards. We can applaud good behavior and reinforce good hygiene to help keep our children safe. 

  1. Be active

Go outside together for a walk. Plan and prepare your meals together. Make crafts and masks together. There are so many activities out there that are floating around as possible things you can do. Try to make those healthy activities be a part of your daily activities.

  1. Stay connected with others

It’s important to keep in touch and reach out to others to stay connected. There has been a huge increase of video conferencing. Have video chats with grandparents and friends. Reach out to friends that you haven’t talked to in a long time. Keeping in touch with others will keep everyone’s spirits up.

  1. Focus on what can be done in the present

Keep your mind on what we can do today. Parents and teachers should talk about how all school subjects are important in finding a solution to Covid-19. There are doctors treating patients, and math is being used to calculate and project the spread of the disease, and journalists are important to share news and communicate what is being done. History shows us how people dealt with pandemics in the past. Scientists are working to find a cure. All of these subjects work together in an interdisciplinary way. It’s important that students have a deep understanding of how it all works together. This whole crisis shows how every single subject is important in having a complete interdisciplinary study. Parents and teachers should point out the importance of how all subjects can be used together to solve problems.

If you would like to find out more tips and resources for teaching and parenting during the pandemic, visit MacFarlane’s Facebook group, Teaching, Parenting, and Leading Change with Dr. Mac” or visit this video where she explains how to enhance a child’s learning experience while reading a storybook.