Advice For Parents and Children Feeling Scared and Alone Today

Joel Eisenberg

When I was a Special Education teacher who also worked with kids in group homes and the foster care system, I dealt with a great deal of fear.

There was the fear on the part of my students, many of whom came from broken families and had not yet mastered the skills to be away from them for hours at a time, and there was the fear on the part of the teachers and other professional team members who were not always sure of the most effective ways to calm their charges’ frequently difficult and complex emotions.

Emotions that today may be all the more difficult to manage considering our pandemic, and political polarization.

It is easy to forget that we were kids too, once.

Parents, you may want to ask yourselves, “What made me feel better back then?”

We’ll go from there.

Kids, like many adults, are horrified of the unknown. They are scared of dying, to be frank.

And they, in general, are equally scared of the process.

Does this resonate with any of you?

What else do we have in common with our kids?

  • Some have nightmares. Some of us do too.
  • They are frequently intimidated by, or outright scared of, prospects for their future.
  • They worry about the present.
  • They stress what some of us would consider the “small things” … while in truth many of us do the same.
  • They want to be appreciated, liked, and respected.

I can go on.

Increased responsibilities and wisdom attained from life experience aside, there is in truth very little that divides us.

What is the one thing kids tend to have in common, though, that non-creative adults over the years tend to lose?

Their sense of wonder.

Kids can certainly be cynical too. They can also be hopeful, but try telling a kid with a disadvantaged upbringing why you are right and they are wrong. Preach to them that hope springs eternal, when all they see and hear — especially on today’s news — makes them believe the opposite is true.

That means you are lying to them. From their perspective.

And their perspective is their reality.

What inspired this article was a call from a friend this morning. She said she saw a child yesterday, who could not have been older than eight or nine, at the supermarket.

The child smiled at everyone the next line over, tugged their sleeves, and said, “There’s no toilet paper because the world’s ending soon.”

My friend said, as she was waiting for her turn at the counter, that she was sort of upset with the child’s mother, who ignored some of the adults present and to others said, “He’s just rambling.”

Meantime patrons throughout the store were hoarding food and other supplies.

Who was right? The mother for ignoring his “rambling,” or the kid for either repeating what he’s heard or seeing evidence of something wrong — that validated what he’s heard — and acting upon it?

As you read the below advice, note that, of course, no one size fits all. Meaning, some kids are gifted; some are not. Some are mature for their age; others are age-appropriate in their maturity.

What follows is good, common sense general advice to those 18 and under. None of this is a cure for fear. Instead, the exercises that follow are productive ways to pass the time … while subtly encouraging more effective communication between young people and adults.

10 Pieces of Advice That Can Help Your Children, Today, Who Are Scared Of Our Current International Pandemic While Not Fully Understanding What is Happening

We don’t fully understand it either. And that’s the biggest issue.

Your children will frequently know when they are being patronized.

The following advice, then, may serve them -- and you -- well …

  1. Encourage Them to Read. If your kids are no longer attending school in-person, now is the time to reread “Harry Potter” for escapism, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” for the more scholarly, or any classics that may be on your bookshelves. Comic books are great; graphic novels … You be the arbiter of what is appropriate and what is not. The point here is to lead the way and show your child that fear is normal, healthy, and can be overcome. When I was a minor, the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, comic books, pro wrestling magazines and monster magazines were everything to me. I read voraciously. Today, reading can certainly help your kids see how others defeated their fears. If you have a teen, and they prefer to spend their time texting, or on Tik Tok or social media like many teens, you’re still the parent. You create the rules.
  2. Encourage Them to Write. Or, at the very least, encourage them to keep a notebook or a pad nearby. No, not every child will want to write simply because there is a notebook in the vicinity. But here’s a positive: When I taught high school-aged gang kids, I created a creative writing class where they would write about their lives, and only share if they felt they wanted or needed to. This class was hugely popular with the students, and other teachers adapted the program. You may be surprised if your child writes about his or her fears and/or concerns, how potentially comforting it can be to you both. Especially if the child shares, but do not force the issue until or unless they are ready.
  3. Communicate Your Feelings to Your Child. Speak to them about the virus, if asked. Have them trust you first. You may be surprised.
  4. Encourage Your Child to Communicate Their Feelings to You. This is a typical repercussion of #3. Sure, sometimes it is simply “uncool” for a child to communicate with their parent so openly. However, in my experience if that parent goes first … the rewards can be innumerable.
  5. Encourage Your Children to Do Puzzles, or Other Brain-Teasers. A productive and positive way to pass the time, as opposed to texting all day long. Speak to your kids, challenge them as to who can put a puzzle together first. If they get frustrated, find another brain-teaser. The point of this exercise is to help them build a sense of confidence that they too can find solutions to problems, especially during tough times.
  6. Use Your Judgement Regarding Parental Controls for the Internet and the Television. Self-explanatory. If you worry about the material your child is viewing, turn on parental controls. The other philosophy in this regard is to not censor at all, and let them watch what they want. Create the rule in that case that they must be prepared to talk to you about their experiences after.
  7. Limit Their Television News Exposure. Today’s news is much like an unprepared child experiencing a horror movie for the first time. The obvious difference between today’s news and one’s filmgoing preference is that the former is all too true. Dystopian-themed films that were until recently considered fiction now hit close to home. If you elect to not limit your child’s news viewing, of late a veritable 24–7 circus of Coronavirus pandemonium, be prepared to watch along with them and openly discuss what you have viewed.
  8. Engage Family Time. Some kids strive for family time. Other kids would sooner stay in their rooms and gossip with their friends. Do what you can to encourage the former. It’s all about balance.
  9. Encourage Your Child to Exercise. Physical exercise is oft-overlooked when it comes to processing scary news. Meditation and yoga can be equally effective. The psychological benefits are many, including a feeling of becoming stronger, and more capable of handling bad news.
  10. Be a Leader, and a Comfort. Most of all, let your children know that being scared is okay. Discuss favorite fictional characters who have overcome great obstacles. Talk about favorite songs. Encourage your children to create art, and to illustrate or write a song about their feelings. Let them know, in all instances, you are there for them.

Thank you for reading. I hope this simple advice serves your kids well, and you too.

As a responsible aside, none of what has been listed above is intended to take the place of professional diagnoses, if needed.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA

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