We are living in time with lots of questions and the fear of the unknown. Fear of this respiratory illness that no one seems to be able to predict how far or much it will spread. Fear of a great recession that may follow. Fear of unknown future of “normalcy” as we know or define it. Fear of not even being able to find toilet paper, Clorox or hand sanitizer ever again. Fear that if we let, can be all consuming.
One trick I found helpful in minimizing my own anxiety and feelings of loss of control and imbalance is to find an outlet. Mine, it turns out is faith, exercise and writing. But not just writing for myself, but also giving a voice to the kids. Especially kids with ADHD or learning related disabilities that as innocent as they are, may experience exaggerated feelings of loss and anxiety. Especially if seeing adults around them feeling helpless and stressed.
A number of kids out there have ADHD, Sensory Processing and/or other related learning disabilities, which may make them a bit more anxious than a typical child. They may have exaggerated symptoms of loss of sleep, concentration, and/or change in appetite and bowel movements all related to heighten feeling of change and instability. Think about all the change in routines happening at the moment. School is virtual, news in many households is blaring, outside play (i.e.playgrounds, gyms) or playdates with friends is restricted. What does a child who strives on routines and structure to do with this unexpected loss of control. I know my own daughter, even though she is a teenager, and should understand more of what is going on, has a difficult time doing so. She herself is on edge when hearing the mention of COVID-19 evident by her exhausting number of “why” and “what’s happening mom?” questions.
So what can we do as parents to help?
- Build in time for quick brain breaks to help regulate a child’s sensory system. Movement and heavy work are helpful calming strategies such as walk or jump on cushions, do animal walks or dance, roll up like a hot dog in a blanket, chew fruit snacks, licorice or other chewy or crunchy foods (pretzels), blow bubbles, drink through a crazy straw.
- Establish daily routines during quarantine. Stick to morning, meal, bed time routines. Keep some sort of order among the disarray.
- Explain the situation using a social story. To ease the anxiety, see attached COVID-19 social story provided in pictures. I found this social story which may help your child understand COVID-19 situation in a more concrete manner. https://littlepuddins.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/The-Corona-Virus-Free-Printable-Updated-2-The-Autism-Educator-.pdf
- Find a calm time when your child is in a good mood and well regulated to discuss the situations that worry him/her. His/her anxiety most likely comes from the unpredictability of this situation. From broken down routines to unforeseen danger of COVID-19. Fears at this moment are amplified, as though someone turned on the volume for a never ending period of time. Your child will not listen to reason, when their irrational mind and heighten senses take over. Validate their feelings and ask them what will make you feel better? Say “I know that you are feeling uncomfortable right now, I know these are scary feelings. Let’s think what we can do to quiet down the worry brain?”
- Discuss coping strategies to feel less stressful. Usually anxiety is felt physically such as rapid heart beat, stomach aches, and/or feel extra fidgety. Discuss these signs with your child and give them the tools to cope. Some tools are deep belly breathing (see image below), Stop/Think/Do something to distract self such as sing a song/hum, read a book, draw etc.