Children appear to be stigmatizing, becoming anxious about COVID-19, says Regina mother

·3 min read

A Regina mother says she is noticing children, including her five-year old son, experiencing anxiety about COVID-19.

Kara Gurski, a daycare operator, is rethinking how she talks about the illness around her son after seeing how scared he was after coming down with a stomach bug.

"He looked at me and said, 'Mom, I don't want the kids to know that I'm sick, because I don't want them to know I have the virus. Nobody will play with me if I have the virus,'" Gurski said.

"I just thought it was so profound because obviously to get COVID, that would be very undesirable. But I don't think it's any of our intentions as adults to make it seem like it's a bad thing, or makes that person bad."

On top of the stigmatization, Gurski said there seems to be anxiety stemming from the frequent school closures and reopenings, and seeing kids missing because one classroom got shut down.

"I can see the kids asking different questions like, 'Are we going to be staying home again? What happens if I get sick? Will I die?'" she said.

"I do really encourage parents and care providers to be really open about the questions that our kids have around [COVID-19] and to watch their tone around the virus, just to eliminate a little bit of anxiety in the kids."

Robin Loznak/The Associated Press
Robin Loznak/The Associated Press

Dr. Lila McCormick, a clinical psychologist in Saskatoon, said she believes Gurski is describing a fear of physical symptoms and the anxiety that comes with potentially contracting COVID-19 — something many adults and front-line workers face as well.

"Anytime something bad happens, we have a human nature... to look for something or someone to blame," McCormick said. "It helps us feel less vulnerable and less likely to have the same fate.

"As parents, we really want to model acceptance and compassion, focusing on the facts and helping our children realize that just because somebody gets [COVID-19]... doesn't mean that they've done anything wrong."

The first way to help is to recognize if a child is experiencing anxiety, says McCormick.

The signs can show in different ways, from different behaviour, to trouble sleeping or nightmares, or even physical symptoms like head or stomach aches, she said.

The latter "can get tricky," she said, because the child's anxiety could be increased if they interpret the pain as a COVID-19 symptom.

Once recognized, McCormick suggests guardians answer any questions their child may have about the illness, and do so in an honest, direct and simple way.

"We don't want to overwhelm them with information about it," said McCormick. "We want them to be able to ask more questions. But we also just want to be there as a sounding board or someone for them to talk to about those feelings that they have."

Simple questions such as, 'Are you worried about anything at school?' or 'How are you feeling about what's going on with COVID-19?' can allow children to open up, she said.

If they do respond and express their feelings, McCormick said guardians need to validate those feelings, let them know they are not the only child or person feeling that way and empathize with them.

CBC News Graphics
CBC News Graphics

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