Helping Children Cope with COVID-19 Stress

“Most of us would agree that this indescribable time of COVID-19 has been distressing and disturbing—which is the definition of trauma,” says Marriage & Family Therapist, De Rosenberry, who also manages the Senior Services program for Family Service Agency. 

“While it is important to recognize and address our own feelings, we need to be cognizant of the trauma our children may also be experiencing,” says Rosenberry. “Dealing with these feelings now can make us all more resilient when things work their way back to normalcy.”

Watch for Signs of Stress

According to Rosenberry, your child (or you) may be demonstrating the following behaviors or emotions if they are feeling distressed or disturbed, and therefore exhibiting signs of trauma:

  • Anxiety, restlessness, inability to feel calm or regulate (manage our moods and behaviors), busyness, difficulty relaxing
  • Depression, sadness that does not diminish, limited feelings of happiness, numbing (muting our feelings)
  • Fear, clinginess, tearfulness, difficulty soothing, anger (Note: underlying what appears as anger may actually be fear)
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping

What can you do to help your child?

“Kids look to their parents or primary caretakers for cues on how to act or react. Calm, collected, reassuring parents produce calm, collected, and reassured children,” says Rosenberry. “It can be extraordinarily difficult to do any of those things on good days, and right now, it is crucial we develop

and practice those habits to help our children successfully cope. If you need extra support right now, Family Service Agency can help.”

Rosenberry offers the following tips to help address the trauma your child may be experiencing in this difficult time.

  • Check in with yourself before “reacting” to your child. Take a moment to calm yourself.
  • Imagine what your children are feeling—anxiety, depression, fear? Respond to those feelings and not their behaviors. Use words to describe what they might be feeling.
  • Help your child develop their emotional vocabulary. “I feel sad. I am so mad! I am scared.”
  • Research shows that speaking about our feelings decreases their impact and intensity. Have your child point to the place in their bodies where they feel that feeling and emotion. This helps them put their feelings outside of their bodies instead of keeping them locked inside where they cannot be expressed.
  • Remind your children (and yourself) that whatever they are feeling is perfectly fine. It is completely natural to feel whatever they are feeling. Feelings can indicate a need. Help your child figure out what they need and assist them with that need. Do the same for yourself.
  • Build resilience. Remind your children (and yourself) of the skills and talents they already have and how they could use them to cope and manage during this time. Notice and praise their successes and healthy ways of coping.

“It may be helpful to remember the effects of trauma will remain after we try to get back to normal,” says Rosenberry/ “Our children’s feelings and behaviors may persist long after they return to school and we return to work.”

Now is the time to help your child feel safe, secure, loved, listened to, seen, and heard. Research indicates that parents or primary caregivers can reduce the long-term effects of trauma in children by providing these types of nurturing responses.

Contact Family Service Agency or Santa Maria Valley Youth & Family Center if you need help at fsacares.org  or 805-965-1001.

                                                                                                                                                                                          

Family Service Agency of Santa Barbara County (FSA) is a nonprofit social service agency that has served the people of Santa Barbara County since 1899. Operating as Santa Maria Valley Youth and Family Center (SMVYFC) in Santa Maria and Little House By The Park (LHP) in Guadalupe, FSA works to help the community’s most vulnerable children, families, and seniors meet their basic needs while simultaneously addressing mental health needs. Through this holistic approach, FSA improves the strength and well-being of our community. All services are provided free or on a sliding fee/donation scale and no one is denied assistance because of an inability to pay. Visit fsacares.org or call (805) 965-1001 for more information.

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