How to Help Young Children Feel Secure in Uncertain Times

mom kissing toddler

It’s been almost two months since we started to quarantine due to COVID 19, and we, as adults, are pretty spent. Our children – especially younger ones – continue to be baffled by what is happening and why they can’t go to school, see their friends or their grandparents, cousins, or go to the store. Their little lives have been changed dramatically, and this change took place rather quickly.

Many of us adults didn’t think this would last this long and that we would return to ‘life as usual’ sooner than later. However, that’s not the case and you may be noticing that your toddlers and young children are sad, angry or becoming increasingly anxious in these uncertain times.

You may be noticing the following behaviors

  • Inflexibility – e.g., “I want the red cup!” and no other cup will do
  • Tearfulness over things that didn’t create tears before quarantine
  • A greater number of meltdowns over “small” things
  • Physically clinging to Mom or Dad
  • Becoming anxious if Mom or Dad leave the room
  • Hitting
  • Biting
  • Regression in potty training
  • Middle of the night wake visits

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Here’s what TO DO to help your child feel secure

  • Physically connect with your child each morning and night. Before starting the day, sit down with your child on the floor, bed or couch and snuggle without words. Just be together to build that connection.
  • Create a schedule that is time based or block based. That is: School Time, Craft Time, Snack Time, IPAD Time, Lunch time, Rest/Nap time, Free Play Time, TV/Movie Time, Outside Play Time, Facetime with cousins, grandparents etc.
  • Adjust the time for each block based on your child’s age and attention span.
  • Build in outside play time each day, even if it’s raining.
  • Build in activities to be done together and alone so that you can have a break too.
  • Give your child choices so that he or she feels in control (e.g., “Do you want to have goldfish or a cheese stick for a snack?”).
  • Take pictures of this time, as you will forget how you occupied your time and how little your children were.

DON’T DO the following (it will not help your child feel secure)

  • Give extra treats or privileges out of guilt.
  • Allow your children to stay up too much later past their usual bedtime.
  • Turn on the news in their presence.
  • Talk about the latest statistics or new information in front of your children with your partner, or on the phone.

By creating a more consistent and predictable home environment for your little one, your child may feel more secure during this time of uncertainty. If you are having a difficult time yourself, as a parent, seek support via a therapist who can help you process your emotions as well as create a daily routine for your child/ren during a time when all feels upside down.

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Dr. Liz Matheis is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist who specializes in treating children with ADHD, Autism, Anxiety, and learning disabilities. She created the ACHIEVE program to coach students with ADHD to create organizational systems that work for them. Dr. Liz serves as Parent Coach, in which she helps parents develop boundaries and maintain consistency in the home environment. She has been effective in helping to decrease anxiety in children, adolescents, and adults using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques. She is also a sought-after contributor to numerous publications, blogs and radio shows!

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