Coronavirus Anxiety: Helping parents to support their children

We were so honored and excited to have NYC pediatrician Dr. Micah Resnick with us on our live series this week to discuss coronavirus anxiety and supporting our children through the next stage of uncertainty and stay at home orders. We loved Dr. Resnick’s gentle and practical approach to parenting and self-care. The information was also highly valuable coming from a highly dedicated and informed medical doctor, so we are passing it along to anyone who wasn’t able to listen in.

Coronavirus anxiety: Preparing to show up for your children

Self-care first! 

All of the best advice for parents, especially those working from home, says to make self-care a priority, right? This is also at the top of Dr. Resnick’s list of advice as well. Because it is an intense time for everyone and parents cannot expect to help their children cope with coronavirus anxiety unless they put on their own oxygen mask first. Do you know what you need to stay happy and healthy? Make sure to get it in, especially when it comes to a full night of sleep.

Share your feelings

Not only does sharing our feelings help to relieve stress, it also connects us with our family and shows our children that it is acceptable and normal.

Remember: you don’t have to be perfect 

Always keep in mind that perfection is not the goal, especially in circumstances as unfamiliar as these. We will all make mistakes as parents, it is a part of the process. Keep focusing on self-care and modeling good behavior; these are things that kids pick up on. The rest will fall into place.

Managing your own Coronavirus anxiety 

Meditation 

You don’t have to get up early, set aside 30 minutes every day, or take a course to reap the benefits of meditation. Dr. Resnick says that even on his busiest days from home he makes sure to get in five minutes of meditation. How does he do it effectively? The Headspace app has a great selection of short guided meditations that help him to get grounded and recharged. Check out our resource list at the end of this post for more meditation tools.

Controlled breathing

Controlled breathing helps to relieve physical tension, bring you to the present moment, and reduce mental stress. Dr. Resnick suggests using the 4 by 4 by 4 method (also called box breathing):

  1. Sit still and focus on your breath
  2. Breathe in for 4 seconds and stop
  3. Hold your breath for a count of 4
  4. Breathe out for 4 seconds

Doing just one round will leave you feeling calmer, more grounded, and ready to take on another hour of stay-at-home craziness.

Remember, we will come out of this and we can learn from the experiences we are having and come out stronger.

Gratitude practices 

Articulating what you are thankful for every morning can help you to manage anxiety all day long. Starting the day by listing a few things you are grateful for is also a great way to maintain perspective.

To begin with, Dr. Resnick suggests simply taking a moment each morning to thank “whatever you believe in” for another day on earth. That’s simple enough, right?

Managing your child’s coronavirus anxiety

Turn off the news

The news tends to be full of sensational images and words.  It is distressing to adults and children alike.   Yes, it is important to know what is happening around us but for children, it is important to present that information in a way that is age appropriate, factual and avoids sensationalism. Also, no one benefits from hearing sensational and negative news around the clock. We all benefit from turning off the news.

Build connection

While limiting screen time is a healthy practice, Dr. Resnick suggests that this may actually the time to embrace the screen. Encourage children to FaceTime with grandparents, cousins, and friends. If you know someone who lives alone or is struggling right now, make reaching out to them a family project.

Besides using the phones, there is plenty of time for handwritten letters, which people will especially love getting right now. Writing letters is a great family activity, plus, it gives you an excuse to leave the house for a few minutes for a solo walk to the mailbox!

How about finding a service project to do from home as a family? There are a lot of organizations that could use various types of support right now. This is a great opportunity to teach altruism to your children and to make service a family tradition and value.

Be a health superhero 

Never underestimate the power of modeling good behavior to your children. Sure, they may want mac and cheese for dinner for nights on end, and you may want to give in and let them do it right now. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a healthy dinner and show your children how much you enjoy a more well-balanced meal.

Involve your children in your mindfulness practices

Dr. Resnick says that a child’s ability to be mindful and stay in the moment begins with things they learn in infancy. If you are trying to develop a practice, include your children. You may be teaching them a skill that will serve them the rest of their lives.

Here’s one mindfulness activity that AfterThird Founder Karolina Belwal loves to do with her children:

Let’s use our senses! Have everyone name:

5 things you see

4 things you feel

3 things you hear

2 things you smell

1 thing you taste

This activity brings you back into your senses, into your body and into the moment. Since anxiety is all about the future, this is a great activity to bring you back into the now when you feel anxiety creeping in.

For younger children, another good activity is to ask them to take imagine they are on a cloud.  Then ask them what they see.  This is a basic visualization practice.

Building resilience 

There is a great opportunity to teach children resilience right now. To help our children with this important life skill, start with validating their feelings and listening to how they are experiencing the stresses being presented right now. This will help children to learn that while not all actions are valid, all feelings are. Coronavirus anxiety is something completely new to all of us, and your children will benefit to know you are curious about their experience.

Parents can also strengthen their resilience, helping to more fully support the rest of the family. Dr. Resnick believes the best way that parents can do this is by learning to be optimistic. This helps you to keep going and is a valuable behavior for children to witness.

Resilience is built on:

  1. Optimism
  2. Spiritual Mindfulness
  3. Altruism
  4. Showing Up

What about….?

As a doctor in an area more affected by COVID-19, Dr. Resnick knows the questions on a lot of parent’s minds. Here are a few of his quick answers to some of the most common questions he is hearing right now.

What does flattening the curve mean for my family? 

Flattening the curve means to slow the spread of the virus so that the number of sick patients does not overwhelm our healthcare system. Dr. Resnick pointed out that there is still no predicting what the upcoming weeks and months are going to look like. However, we can follow all safety protocols continue to ensure we keep ourselves, our families and others well. This is a group effort.  All of us must join in for the well being of everyone else.

Are doctors still doing well-child checks, and should I make appointments? 

Dr. Resnick advises that many doctors are still performing well-child checks for children under the age of two.  It is best to check in with your child’s pediatrician for well baby visits.  They will be able to advise you on whether your child should be seen in person.

What if my child needs emergency care? 

If your child needs any kind of emergency care Dr. Resnick encourages parents to be aware of and utilize pediatric ERs and urgent care centers, if available. He says it is also acceptable to call 911 to ask for advice if a non-life threatening but urgent situation occurs.

What if I live with an essential worker?

There is no blanket advice for those living with essential workers and Dr. Resnick strongly encourages families to do what is best for them and their circumstances.

Should I continue to introduce allergens to my children?

Dr. Resnick advises parents that it is perfectly okay to continue to introduce children to allergens and asks that parents remember that the most common first-time allergic reactions are hives.

Is there a social impact on my young child staying at home with just me right now? 

Dr. Resnick believes that your child’s interactions with you are the most important ones they have as young children. As long as you are present with your child, engage with them, and love them they will be perfectly fine if their interactions are limited to parents, even for many months.  For older children, plan Zoom chats and find other ways for them to continue to interact with their friends.

What about my summer vacation plans?

Dr. Resnick’s opinion? Don’t plan on it!

Above all, Dr. Resnick encourages parents to be gentle on themselves. The most important thing you can do is to be in the moment with your children. The rest will follow. If you lose your cool? Apologize. Let your children know that everyone makes mistakes. Forgive yourself and remember that you are doing the best you can.

We will get through this and we will get through it together.

Anti coronavirus anxiety resources for parents and families

Meditation tools to use with children

Belly Breathe with Elmo

Go Noodle movement and mindfulness videos

Cosmic Kids Yoga

Helping children to talk about emotions

The Color Monster by Anna Llennas

My Hidden Chimp by Steve Peters

Resources for parents

The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff (TEDTalks)

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber

Headspace app

Insight Timer app

Dr Micah Resnick

Micah Resnick is a general pediatrician in New York City and an assistant professor of Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is father to three amazing children, all under 5, and blessed to be married to his incredible partner, April. Follow him @doctor_micah

 

 

At AfterThird

 

Header Photo by CDC on Unsplash