Coping with Children's Anxiety about the Coronavirus Outbreak

Published 08 February 2020 at 06:22

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Coping with Children's Anxiety about the Coronavirus Outbreak

  • “Oh man! This is so frustrating. I can’t go out anywhere. I can't play with my friends. All my activities have also been stopped.” ranted a 12-year-old.
  • “I had planned a play date with my friends today. But then we found, we can’t play in the clubhouse anymore! Just playing by myself at home is so boring,” whined a 10-year-old.
  • “I have my GCSE coming up. But sitting at home and doing the self-study is hard. I am missing my school and my friends. I feel like I am under house arrest,” lamented a 14-year-old.

Tween and teenage is a time when the child’s brain is generally anxious over the smallest of things. When we add a virus and an epidemic to the equation, it goes crazy with frustration, anxiety, and stress.

Sonia Lupien at the Centre for Studies in Human Stress has a handy acronym for what causes stress in our lives:

  • N-Novelty Something that you have not handled in your life before;
  • U-Unpredictability Something you had no way of knowing occurs;
  • T-Threat to the Ego Your safety or competence as a person feels threatened;
  • S-Sense of Control You feel you have little or no control over the situation.

As you can see, our current situation has all the factors that make a person stressful. Most of the parents I have talked to are stressed out themselves. One parent I was talking to even mentioned that sometimes she gets flashes of images from the movie Doomsday. If the current situation is doing this to us adults, just imagine what might be going on in a teen’s mind. Stress is energy consuming and paralyzing. It prevents us from looking at a problem with a solution mindset.

In this article, I enlist some of the strategies that we as parents can use to reduce the stress, anxiety and frustration in our children.

Photo Credit: Travelerpix / shutterstock

1. Analysis of Facts

There is considerable information floating around. It is hard to filter out the authentic from fake information. However, situations like these are an excellent opportunity to teach our kids exactly that. It is time to teach them how to use the information available and deduce your conclusion.

For example, get your child to write down all the epidemics that have been since SARS. Make them write facts around each like, where they originated, how long they lasted, what was the proportion of infection vs deaths, reasons behind the death. Now ask them to draw their conclusions for the current epidemic from this.

Such fact gathering actions help build their knowledge. Teach them to comb through information, discern between facts and opinions and learn to form their own opinion. All this in turn, teaches them to move their energy and focus from worry to constructive actions.

Photo Credit: xmee / shutterstock

2. Household Chores

Most of the extracurricular activities have been suspended now. Children of Hong Kong who were excessively busy just a few days back, practically have nothing to do now.

This is a time when we parents can get them to learn skills that they would otherwise have no time to learn. These are the skills that would come handy when they leave the nest and go away to a hostel or are living on their own.

You can teach them to cook light small dishes. They can learn how to sew buttons or stitch small tears. They can learn ironing their clothes.

Photo Credit: nightowl / pixabay

3. Learning a New Skill

Mostly kids in Hong Kong do not get time to do things of their choice. They are so busy with their academics and extracurriculars. The holidays are no better either they are in summer camps or traveling. Now with most of the classes happening online and extracurriculars cancelled, they have time to spare. They can use this time to learn those things. 

Get them to make a list of things they have always wanted to learn. They can include skills they have envied in their peers or friends but never got opportunity to explore.

Once they have made the list, brainstorm with them on which skill they can learn in current circumstances and how. They can pair up with a friend and teach each other.

While writing this I am reminded of an incident some years back. One Sunday, I took my 7-year-old to the waterfront. She surprised me by somersaulting a bar. When I asked her where she had learned this, our domestic helper at that time had taught her. Our helpers have a lot of hidden talents. Kids can learn a lot from them.

Besides people, there is a multitude of options available online these days. They can learn to code, dance, arts and crafts, art of storytelling or pick up some public speaking skills. The starting point of learning something is to know what I want to learn. Resources are aplenty these days.

Photo Credit: Nhat-Tien Le / pixabay

4. 21-day Health Challenge

With extracurriculars cancelled, it is a challenge to get the kids to exercise. The medical experts have always emphasised on the importance of exercise to boost your immune system and stay healthy. In the current environment, it becomes even more imperative. This is an opportunity to bring exercising into their daily habit and it can be done in a fun way. Research claims, when you do something consistently for 21 days, there is a high chance it will become your habit. Children love new challenges and if there are other kids involved, they become highly motivated to do things. Get them to undertake a 21-day challenge.

They can form a group on one of the social media platforms. Each week they can have an exercise challenge posted on it for that week. It must be something none of the group members has ever done before.

Let’s say, they start with the PLANK challenge. So, the first day they all do it for 20 secs. They must record themselves and post on the group. Each day see how much longer they can hold and how far they can go by the end of the week. The following week, they can either start a new challenge or they can add to it. Get them to see for themselves, where they were on day one and by the end of 21st day where they reach. Challenges like these, besides forming good habits, help inculcate self-discipline in them.

Photo Credit: Astrid Pereira / pixabay


Being stuck at home is very difficult for the young and active. It can be anxiety and frustration ridden. It becomes further accentuated if the parents are anxious too. Children mirror our emotions, positive or negative. We are their role models. In this difficult time, we have to role model nonanxious presence to them. Instead of tracking the news the whole day and worrying about the lack of stocks in the stores, we can use this opportunity to build a bond with them by doing activities together.

How long this situation will last and how long bad it will get, even scientists are unable to accurately predict that. Currently, we have no control over it. What we do have control over is how we choose to utilise this time.

By Shalini Bindal

About the Author:

Shalini Bindal is a Professional Coach certified by International Coach Federation (ICF). She focuses her coaching efforts on Teens, Parents and Women. Her one-on-one Cut-the-Clutter programme is designed to change the child’s thinking from negative to positive. Before becoming a Coach, she was a Human Resources professional and Corporate Facilitator. A mother of two teenagers, Shalini has lived in India, Belgium and now in Hong Kong. Email her for a 30-minute free in-person or virtual session

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