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How To Address Kids' Coronavirus Fears

Ted Bender, president of UnityPlace, said children will react to COVID-19 fears the same as the adults around them do.
Dana Vollmer
Peoria Public Radio
Ted Bender, president of UnityPlace, said children will react to COVID-19 fears the same as the adults around them do.

As stressful as the COVID-19 pandemic is for adults, it’s likely worse for children.

That’s according to Ted Bender, president of UnityPlace, which provides addiction treatment and mental health services.

Bender said adolescents often feed off the emotions and responses of the adults around them.

“Stay calm. Reassure your children and each other,” he said. “Talk to them in a way they can understand about what is happening. And, provide them with the opportunity to talk about what they are going through and thinking."

Bender said separation from school, friends, and family can cause a great deal of anxiety in kids and teens, as can overexposure to media coverage of the pandemic.

“Consider limiting the amount of exposure your kids are getting to this disaster, if you’re one of those people that watch the news cycle 24 hours a day,” he said.

Previous history of trauma is commonly triggered by crisis, Bender said. That includes things like loss of a loved one, having a sick family member, or being separated from a caregiver.

Bender said different age groups will show different signs of distress.

“In younger children, we may see a return to behaviors that they had previously outgrown — behaviors such as separation anxiety from a parent or caregiver, bed wetting, bathroom accidents,” he said.

Older kids may express their anxiety as sadness, anger, or fear, Bender said. They may be afraid to leave the house, increase drug and alcohol use, drive recklessly, or further isolate themselves from family or friends.

Bender said kids of all ages may have their fears heightened by misinformation spread by peers or social media.

“Talk to your children so that they know you are prepared and that you have a plan to keep them safe,” he said. “Review any safety plans that you may have with them. Having a plan will increase your childrens’ confidence and help give them back a sense of control.”

Bender said the best way parents can help is by setting a good example for their children: managing their stress, eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding drugs and alcohol.

"The best caregivers are the ones that take care of themselves,” he said. “When you are prepared, rested, and relaxed, you can respond better to unexpected events and can make decisions in the best interest of your loved one.”

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Dana Vollmer is a reporter with WGLT. Dana previously covered the state Capitol for NPR Illinois and Peoria for WCBU.