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Topic: Emotional Stress in Children

Question: As a parent, how can I help my child cope with emotional stress during the pandemic?

Stefanie Hanisch, M.D.
Child Psychiatry
Sanford Health

Expert's Response

First, it is important to realize that, as caregivers and parents, we can't be helpful to our kids if we aren’t taking care of ourselves. I would argue that the first step is making sure that, as a parent, you're taking care of yourself and that you are modeling good behavior. This means not spending excessive amounts of time on screens and not using alcohol or drugs in excess. It also means demonstrating good behaviors, like finding ways to connect with friends and family, exercising, and getting adequate sleep. Then, as much as possible, encourage your kids to practice the same healthy habits.

In a time when everything feels so out of control, help your children focus on the things that they, and your family, can control. Remind your kids that they can control how they keep the family safe by washing their hands, using a mask, and practicing social distancing. You don’t want to falsely reassure your kids, because none of these things are 100% guaranteed to keep people safe, but reminding your kids that there are things that we do have control of will help to build a stronger internal sense of control. 

Finally, it’s also important to acknowledge our anxiety to our kids. If we don’t acknowledge our own fears, then it doesn’t foster helpful communication within the family. Instead, open communication can serve to encourage your kids to talk about their own fears and concerns.