When children are anxious or frightened, they often can’t explain how they’re feeling, so they act out. The impact of Coronavirus is causing routines to change, parents to feel more anxious and irritations to flare.

Part of your job as a parent is to try to help your children manage their fears and anxieties. If your child is reluctant, difficult, rude, or defiant, something is going on for them. They need your understanding and support, rather than your judgement or anger.

Dealing with uncertainty and anxiety are two important life skills for children to learn, that they will need in adulthood. So, it’s important to handle well.

1. Help your child understand what is going on

Explain to your child about Coronavirus and social isolating using language and words they can understand. Anxiety is fuelled by the unknown. This Playmobil video might help with younger children.

However, do admit when you don’t know something, and acknowledge that it’s OK not to know everything. Sometimes we have to learn to live with the unknown. Coping with uncertainty is a valuable life skill for your child to learn.

2. Put your child’s fears into words:

There is a saying, ‘name it to tame it.’ It means that when we can label our feelings, the strength of the emotion will subside by as much as 50%.
So, if your child is worried about schoolwork, help them put a label on their concerns.

  • ‘It looks like you are worried about the schoolwork. Perhaps you feel it will be too hard.’
  • Sometimes you feel the schoolwork drags on and on, and you can’t predict how long it’s going to take.’
  • ‘I expect it’s difficult having me to explain your schoolwork. Normally you like your teacher to do the schoolwork, and to relax when you get home. It can be confusing when the role has changed. It looks like it’s unsettling you.’
  • ‘It’s so hard, isn’t it, when you can’t see your friends? It’s difficult too because it looks like you’re feeling unsettled and you don’t like being stuck at home all the time and you don’t know how long this is going to last.’
  • It’s hard when we don’t know what will happen. It’s normal to feel worried about that. What can you do that helps you feel calmer when those thoughts are in your head?

3. Give ‘the worry voice’ a name

Children (and adults) don’t like to talk about their anxieties. They feel embarrassed and overwhelmed by them, so try to stuff them down, where they fester and come out in poor behaviour. So, instead:

You may already have a name for the worry voice. If not, help your child label their worry voice. Something like Anxious Andy/Ann, Nervous Neville/ Nelly, or Worried Walter/Wanda.

Get them to picture what the voice looks like and draw it.

Remember the anxiety voice is designed to help your child. But if it is over-active, it may stop them doing things other children their age do.

Then help your child label the opposite voice – Fearless Freddie/Freda or Brave Bertie/Bella and draw the ‘super-hero.’

Explain that these voices are friends. The brave voice can put their arm around the anxious voice and tell them: ‘Thank you for trying to help, Anxious Andy/Ann. It’s OK. Your friend Fearless Freddie/Freda  is here and helping me to choose more happy, helpful thoughts.’

As a parent, it is also really useful to name your own worry voice, pretend to talk to it as if it’s a person, and ask your child to tell you when they think your worry voice is making you stressed or bossy. This has a big benefit as it is easier for your child to notice what goes on for you. It then helps them notice the same behaviour in themselves.

4. Help your child self-calm

One of the skills it is vital for children to learn is the ability to self-soothe or calm themselves down. This skill is vital to calm big emotions such as anxiety, anger or upset. Ask your child to choose which method they’d like to try. rate how anxious / sad / upset they are feeling on a scale of 1-10. Do the chosen activity, then at the end, ask them to rate their emotion again from 1-10. That way you can help your child find what works for them.

Self-calming methods your child may find useful.

  • Take a long slow deep breath for 5. Hold for 3. Breathe out for 8.
  • Hold something like a pebble or coin to remind your child to stay calm.
  • Hug a cushion or hold a soft toy or blanket
  • Switch off, focus inward, and take a minute to centre themselves.
  • Repeat a mantra such as ‘I’m strong, I’m brave and I’ll handle this.’ Or I’m calm, I’m relaxed and I’m safe’
  • Find somewhere they can be on their own for a few minutes
  • Distract themselves by reading / playing / listening to a relevant song
  • Mindfulness- Really focusing on what they can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.
  • Breathing exercises – such as deep belly breathing or ‘Prana’ breathing.
  • Do something, or think of something that makes them laugh
  • Relaxation exercises (such as progressive relaxation or yoga)
  • Meditation – stop and focus on a single object or the breath
  • Guided visualisation. Picture a beautiful scene from memory or imagination
  • Emotional Freedom technique (EFT or tapping)
  • Calm button
  • Ask a parent to just listen while they talk (rant) for 10 minutes
  • Check what they’re thinking, then explore more helpful, realistic or accurate ways to describe what’s really going on

Remember to model the calm, composed behaviour you’d like your child to copy. That way you can all stay calm and deal with anxiety and uncertainty of the current situation. This will help your child not only in childhood, but through the teenage years and into adulthood!

child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

Need help now? Ready to explore whether investing in some tailor-made parenting sessions would be right for you and your family? Book your FREE 20-minute call with Elizabeth here