Scared of Getting Sick – The aftermath of COVID 

Have you noticed that your child excessively washes their hands? That they are scared to touch surfaces or objects after washing? Or continuously asking you if they will get sick and what would happen if they do? You are not alone. Now that we are living in a post-COVID world, it is important to reflect on the impact it has had on our children and identify what we can do to support them.  

For over two years, measures were put in place to protect us – posters reminding us to wash our hands, socially distance and stay home if you had any flu-like symptoms. It is understandable that children may still worry about getting sick, however below are some signs that your child’s level of anxiety and fear may have become impairing: 

  • Regularly complaining of feeling sick despite no physical evidence to suggest this,
  • avoiding places or environments that they once felt comfortable in,
  • increase in reassurance seeking (e.g. asking if they will get sick),
  • excessive hand washing before meals or touching objects,
  • increase in teariness, irritability, low mood 

If this sounds like your child, here are some helpful strategies to support your child:

  1. Modelling calm: Being conscious of your own emotions and fears around getting sick – strong emotional reactions that centre around the threat of sickness may teach your child that being sick is dangerous, when in reality the majority of childhood sickness is not.
  1. Limit reassurance: It is normal to want to jump in when your child is anxious to quickly help them. You may want to reassure them that they will be okay, or tell them that they will not get sick. However, this starts to become a safety behaviour, in other words, something your child will reach for to help them feel safe in the face of these worries. Whilst this may sound like the perfect solution for all, unfortunately the more reassurance that is given, the more  reassurance that is needed to quell their anxiety. Eventually, it can seem like a compulsive behaviour to constantly check.
  1. Encouragement to face difficult situations: Avoiding everyday activities because they might get sick can be seriously impairing and affect a child’s ability to attend school, social or sports activities or even engage in regular activities at home. It can seem like a good idea to facilitate this avoidance to minimise their anxiety, however it does strengthen it in the long run. Providing gradual challenges and encouraging courageous coping with the anxiety will mitigate the spread of the fear to more and more areas of a child’s life. 
  1. Reward them for being brave: Even if this was something that you may not see as challenging, showing them that you are proud of them for approaching their fear will underline to them that this is worth persisting with.
  1. Seek professional support: Anxiety is a normal part of being human, however if your child is experiencing a level of anxiety that is impairing, it is recommended that your child get support. Sometimes as parents we also need support to know what steps we can be taking to reign in our child’s anxiety. Speaking with a child psychologist may be what you need to get things back on track.

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