Q&A With Dr. Amy Seay Child Psychologist | Part Two of a Three-Part Series

During these unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have questions about how to talk with and help their children. Dr. Seay child psychologist from Arkansas Children's Northwest shares her insights about some of the signs and symptoms parents should be aware of, as well as many resources for additional help.

Q: How can parents help reduce anxiety in their kids?

Dr. Seay: There are many things you can do to support your child. For example:

  • Take time to talk with your child or adolescent about the changes and difficulties related to this COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand. Listen to and acknowledge/validate their emotions.
  • Provide reassurance, promote controlling what you can control, and promote engaging in behaviors that are health and safety-related. Reassure your child or teen that they are safe. Let them know it is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you. If they are younger, normalize emotions and project calm. If they are older validate emotions and acknowledge your own negative emotions.
  • Limit your family's exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand.
  • Try to keep up with regular routines. If schools are closed, create a schedule for learning activities and relaxing or fun activities.
  • Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members in safe, alternate, new and creative ways.

Q: If a parent is concerned about their child, when should they seek additional help?

Remember that it is normal to see some of the changes in behavior and mood that I have outlined; however, if these things persist after the stressor has passed and/or if they are impacting your child’s functioning in ways that are not ok to just monitor over time, then reaching out to a local mental health provider and/or agency about telehealth options is recommended.
If you work for a company or business that has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), consider asking if the resources for behavioral health intervention that are available to you extend to your family members (they often do).

Children who are preoccupied with questions or concerns about the coronavirus outbreak might benefit from additional evaluation and treatment recommendations provided by a trained and qualified mental health professional. Other signs that a child may need additional help include: ongoing sleep disturbances, intrusive thoughts or worries, recurring fears about illness or death, reluctance to leave parents, or be alone. If such behaviors persist, ask your child's pediatrician, family physician or school counselor to help arrange an appropriate referral.