News & Insights

Pandemic Stress in Kids

By Melinda Falconi, OhioGuidestone Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant

Are your kids driving you crazy?  Your second grader, who is so proud of being a “big boy” and has been sleeping in his own bed since he was two, has been insisting on sleeping with you.  Your preschooler, who was potty trained before age three, has been having toileting accidents throughout the day and wets the bed a couple of times a week.  Your toddler, who used to be an independent little guy, has been wrapping himself around your leg and melting down if you leave the room without him.  To make it worse, you’re exhausted with all of this “togetherness” during the pandemic; you’re struggling to transition gradually from working at home to returning to the office two days a week; and, more than anything else, you’d love to be able to send the kids back to school and daycare so you don’t have to listen to your fifth grader say she’s bored, she misses her friends, and may she be excused from the table because she’s really not hungry.

Stop and take a breath.  If you’re feeling stressed, exhausted, confused and worried because of the life changes that have been the result of the pandemic, know that your children are experiencing overwhelming emotions, too.  The free floating anxiety in the house is eroding their sense of safety, and your own very legitimate stress seems to be pulling you farther away from them when they need to keep you close.  Problems with sleeping and eating, toileting accidents, and increased “clinginess” and separation anxiety are all signs of stress. They signal that your children aren’t able to manage their big feelings without your help.  The kids don’t understand what’s happening (except that a lot of people are getting shots).  They can’t trust that it won’t last forever.

What can you do to help them?

  • Be with them.
  • Play with them.
  • Reconnect with them emotionally.
  • Name their feelings (and yours).

Working together to tame the stress and worry will make your house a safe haven again.  Pull your children close and assure them that this scary time will end. That will help you feel better, too.