How to Ease Anxiety for Kids With and Without Special Needs During Coronavirus Isolation
This can be a challenging time for all families, especially ones with children with special needs. Here are expert tips on how to take care of yourself and manage your child's anxiety (no matter if he has special needs or not!).
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A positive in this? More mental health services are moving online, and insurance companies are likely to cover video conferencing sessions with therapists. Hope for Depression has put together a resource guide for people looking into teletherapy, and Benson shares that the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has also put together a state-by-state guide to finding online help. The Dorm has also moved its mental health programming online and adding programming that allows young adults to build community virtually. To check out those services, head to the Dorm's website.
1 in 5 people in America cope with a mental health issue every day, McGeehan advises parents to remember. And since this time throws a wrench in our regular coping mechanisms, it's important to seek help and support each other. For kids who have anxiety, Benson says, and who seek reassurance frequently, don't give in to the temptation to provide that reassurance.
"[Reassurance] will actually create more anxiety," she says. "So channel that need for reassurance into productive activities and group activities for the family."
Create routine in place of school or work, and get creative to overcome boredom and anxiety.
For kids with special needs, a break in their daily routine can be especially disruptive. Try to fill the void with scheduled activities. Make sure your child is up and dressed at a normal time and eats breakfast—and then, you can have him work on reading or math activities if he's school-aged, then have a scheduled lunch time, then go back to activities and fun. Dr. Rosenthal also recommends incorporating physical exercise into your child's routine. If you can afford to order (and have space for!) jump ropes, or a trampoline, or other exercise equipment, exercising can help with your child's anxiety. And if your child's school if offering any kind of online curriculum, use it. Plus, check out these subscription boxes being offered at a discounted rate to some stress-free fun as a family.
If your adult child's workplace is closed, see if the workplace offers online continuing education or learning opportunities to make up for on-site work that's now impossible to do. If not, you can find plenty of learning opportunities online. Create opportunities based on what your child is interested in. If she loves learning about cars, Dr. Rosenthal suggests, have her create a report on different types and present it to you.
The last piece of the puzzle for the whole family is getting creative so you don't go insane. Try homeschooling, at-home workouts, games and activities, and more as the days progress. Benson emphasizes this is a great time to learn new skills.
Moreover, establishing routine between yourself and your partner will help your kids stay on track and foster everyone's relationships.
"It's in those cracks where we lose our routine where the anxiety creeps in. So parents can work together to come up with a daily schedule," she says. "Everybody needs to work in a huge amount of compassion and adaptability into this equation. But if parents can work in a routine, that’s gonna help their relationship and help ease kids’ anxieties."
Another positive that might come out of this situation? Letting your kids teach you about connecting with others online. They are the masters, after all.
“Now more than ever, a lot of us are wondering how we’re going to connect and find community online,” McGeehan says. “Young people can teach us how to adjust and find that community virtually.”
Don't sweat the small stuff in this uncertain time.
"This week is going to be really tough because everyone's in a transition period," Dr. Rosenthal says. "Next week will be much more manageable, because everyone will have worked out the kinks of school and activities. This week is going to be particularly rough. I wouldn’t set expectations too high for getting it down perfectly. If you need to put on an extra movie here or there, don’t sweat it."
He also advises that this could be a time of unprecedented connection between family members—especially parents, who have it more difficult than most. This is an opportunity to band together with family, friends, and coworkers.
"This is a great opportunity for people to look at themselves and their relationships, and lean into the fact that this is going to be challenging and redefining for however many months this lasts until things are calmer," Dr. Rosenthal says. "But if you can make it through this tough, stressful time, you’ll come out much stronger."