Right now is a confusing and even scary time for many kids.

Stress is at an all-time high for families across the nation. While parents are feeling the pressures of caring for and protecting their families, many kids are struggling with their own emotions.

Being home from school and away from friends and family is hard. Young children may be confused and even upset because they don’t understand why these changes have happened. Older kids and teens may be aware of what’s happening, but can equally feel afraid, anxious, and just plain stressed.

If you’ve noticed your kids seem to be struggling with their emotions lately, it’s a good time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart.

Start the conversation by asking your kids what they already know about what’s going on.

A great way to talk with your kids is to begin by asking them what they know about what’s happening.

Age has a lot to do with what they do or don’t know.

Younger kids may not quite understand what’s going on but could be aware that people around the world are sick and they have to stay home so they don’t get germs. School-age children will probably have a better idea about there being a pandemic and that the sickness is called coronavirus or COVID-19. Teens will likely know the most if they watch the news and have access to social media, but this also means they might be hearing a lot of misinformation.

Allow your child to steer the conversation.

Let your kids take the lead with the conversation and see how they respond. They may want to do most of the talking or they might feel more comfortable with you guiding the conversation. Some kids may have a ton of questions while others seem not so interested.

Encourage your kids to share their feelings and ideas about these new lifestyle changes.

Some kids are very open about their emotions and may come to you for help. Others are more independent and you might need to play a bit of a detective role to pick up on how they’re feeling.

Signs your kids may be feeling stressed, even if they don’t realize it themselves.

Some common stress signs in kids include the following:

  • Irritability and moodiness
  • Withdrawn behavior
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Suddenly clingy behavior
  • Eating more or less than usual
  • Saying they feel “sick” or their stomach hurts

Even if your kids don’t outwardly seem interested in talking about the coronavirus and similar topics, if you notice these types of negative behavior it’s important to offer as much comfort as you can.

Supporting your kids when they are afraid or anxious.

Approaching your kids with empathy, love, and patience is key. Every child is different, but these general tips often work well with all.

  • Try to speak in a calm, reassuring, and positive tone, even if you feel a little emotional yourself.
  • Make more time in your day to spend with your kids, if they are very affectionate or needy.
  • On the other hand, some kids prefer space and alone time to process their emotions.
  • Step in if you notice they are struggling, but don’t force conversations or bombard them with questions if they resist.

Be honest with your kids and answer their questions to the best of your ability.

If your children have questions about what’s happening, your approach to answering them has a big impact on their reaction.

First and foremost, always be honest.

As a parent, you’ll need to find that sweet spot between offering honest answers to your children’s questions while also not prompting more fear or worry.

A good rule of thumb is to only offer your child as much information as they need to know and that’s appropriate for their age levels. If they ask a specific question, answer it, but you don’t need to overwhelm them with other information they didn’t ask for.

Validate their fears to a healthy extent.

Validating their fears doesn’t mean supporting the possible inaccuracy of them, but rather listening to what they’re afraid of and letting them know that it’s completely normal to be scared.

For example, if your child is afraid of getting sick, rather than simply saying, “that won’t happen”, explain that kids are at a lower risk of catching the virus.

If you don’t know the answer, let them know.

If your kids ask a question that you don’t know the answer to, there’s no need to pretend you do. In fact, not knowing the answer gives you and your kids a chance to find the answer together!

Help your kids feel more in control of what’s happening by focusing on ways to improve your family’s health.

Fear and worry often stem from feeling like you have no control over a situation. Your children can feel more in control and confident about what’s happening by helping their family stay healthy.

Tell your kids about their immune system and how they can make it stronger.

If your kids don’t know much about how their immune system works, now is a great time to teach them. After explaining how their immune system fights the bad stuff, like the coronavirus, make a plan to boost the family’s immune system.

Some ideas include the following:

  • Trying out healthy new recipes that focus on vegetables and fruits.
  • Start doing daily family workouts together (or walks, hikes, etc).
  • Taking a daily multivitamin with breakfast every morning.
  • Spending time outside together for 15 minutes every day.

Encouraging your kids to focus more on how they can help the family stay healthy helps them get their minds away from what they can’t control to thinking about what they can control.

Regularly check in with your kids to see how they’re feeling and update them on upcoming changes.

After your initial conversation with your kids, make sure to check in regularly to see how they’re doing, especially if they had a big breakthrough in emotion.

With stay-at-home orders relaxing in some states, you and your family will be faced with big changes once again that could prompt fear or worry for kids. Keep your kids in the loop of what’s happening and make family conversations or weekly family discussions a normal part of your new routine.