Understanding How Kids React to the Pandemic

. April 9, 2020.
Ann Arbor Family Press
Empathizing with how kids are also dealing with the familial and societal shakeup can help everyone better make sense of what's happening.

While adults are struggling to work remotely and find some normalcy, kids are struggling with these unprecedented changes too. In this article, nurse practitioner at Liberty Pediatrics, Kyla Boyse, RN, CPNP, shares her expertise about what to expect from our children as they respond to this global crisis and tips to support them.

Preschool

Young children often mix up real and pretend. They might not understand fully what is happening, but they know that people around them are upset or anxious. It can be difficult for little kids to process TV news, so it’s best to avoid exposing them to it.

Young children rely on parents, family and teachers to help them through tough times. They may regress and start to suck their thumb again or wet the bed. Problems with eating, sleeping, and complaints of pain are also common. They may become scared of monsters, strangers or the dark. Depending on the child, they may act out or become more withdrawn. 

School age

School-age children can understand more about the pandemic than preschool children can.  They may want to hear about what happened from trusted adults and receive comfort. Children this age can feel personally affected by news stories. Watch news together so you can see their reactions, make sure they understand well, and answer questions that come up.

School-age kids are missing the normalcy of going to school and interacting with their friends. Many are affected by family financial worries or having parents who work in health care. When directly affected, school-age kids may have many of the same responses as preschool children.  

Teens

Teens aged 12-17 will understand this public health and economic crisis much better than younger kids. They may want to share their feelings and thoughts about issues raised by COVID-19.

When the situation affects teens directly, they may react to the stress with aches and pains, becoming withdrawn, acting out, seeking attention, or taking up risky behavior. Losing their peer contacts and school as a social outlet is particularly difficult. Many teens will be grieving the many losses that come with missing school sports, club activities, and even graduation. More than ever, teens need their family’s love and support. Older teens may want to take action and get involved in helping. 

Tips for supporting each other

This is a tough time for families. Consider some of the following tips to create a new normal for your family.

  1. Hold regular family meetings to brainstorm and discuss daily plans. Be sure to keep them brief and focused on one main topic. End the meeting by sharing someone or something you are grateful for to promote positivity. 
  1. Provide consistency when you can. Try creating a daily schedule and posting it, knowing it’s okay if you need to make adjustments. Have meals at regular times and stick to regular bedtimes and wake times.
  1. Get outside as often as you can, ideally once or twice a day. While children are not developmentally able to keep at least six feet away from non-household members, a mature teen who has a clear understanding of the importance of “social distancing,” can spend time outdoors with a friend walking, biking, or running together.
  1. Kids of all ages (adults, too!) need lots of reassurance, extra hugs, and cuddles during tough times like this. 

When to seek help

Children will react in different ways to stressful events. Some react right away and others may react weeks or months later. While some regression, outbursts, and withdrawn behavior are expected, Liberty Pediatrics encourages you to seek help if the behavior persists or becomes extreme. If in doubt, ask for help. This is a stressful time for parents too. 

To learn more about Liberty Pediatrics or schedule a telehealth appointment with them, visit libertypediatrics.com or
call 734-994-5858.