How to Spot Signs of Stress in Children of Essential Workers

ACTIVE Network
August 12, 2020

When the term “essential worker” comes to our mind, health care providers, first responders, grocery and delivery workers pop into our heads. They are true heroes that are scrubbing up each day, running tests on patients, ringing up our groceries and delivering our online purchases.


But there’s another kind of hero, and that is the essential worker behind the essential worker, sacrificing time with their own families to take care of someone else’s. These heroes are the babysitters, nannies and childcare providers during the COVID-19 pandemic like the local YMCA’s daycare facilities.

While the world is applauding essential workers, few are thinking of how the role of essential workers is affecting their children. For these children, saying goodbye to their parents each day brings a unique type of stress. They worry about their parent’s safety and health, experiencing many unknowns and uncertainties.  

The following are signs of stress in children of essential workers and how to soothe and reassure the child.

Signs of stress:

  • Excessive crying or irritation in younger children
  • Returning to outgrown behaviors like toilet problems or bedwetting
  • Excessive worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
  • Difficulty with attention and concentration
  • Avoiding activities they enjoyed in the past
  • Unexplained headaches or body pain 
If a child is having difficulties with paying attention, it may be a sign of stress.

Ways to soothe and reassure children of essential workers:

  • Reassure the child that their parent is doing the best they can at their job to stay safe.
  • Keep up with regular daycare routines.
  • Limit discussion or exposure to news coverage of the pandemic.
  • Remain calm and provide reassurance. 

Activities to soothe children of essential workers:

  • Play games or puzzles together.
  • Make cards for the elderly or shut ins.
  • Continue with exercise and other physical activities.
  • With warmer weather, explore the outdoors.
  • When inside, explore YouTube videos for dancing or singing.
  • Rainy days are great for arts and crafts, like drawing and painting.
  • Suggest activities that are pleasant and improve a child’s mood. 
Getting some fresh air is a great way to reduce stress.

General guidelines for talking to children:

  • Stay calm, reassuring and patient.
  • Children hear both what you say and the tone of what you’re saying, they often pick up cues from the conversations you might be having with others.
  • Encourage children to talk about their feelings, helping them reframe their concerns.
  • Let them know grown-ups are there to keep them safe and healthy. Make sure your explanations are age appropriate.

Always be present and available to listen and to talk:

  • Reassure children that they can come to you when they have questions.
  • Choose your words wisely, avoiding language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
  • Avoid making assumptions about who might have COVID-19.  

Be consistent with ongoing information, keeping it truthful and correct:

  • Give children information that is straightforward and suitable for the age and developmental level of the child.
  • Speak to children about how some stories on COVID-19 on the internet and social media can often be based on rumors and incorrect information.

To learn more about talking to children during COVID-19, visit the Center for DiseaseControl (CDC). Now more than ever, it's important for childcare providers to create and ensure a system to address children’s concerns and anxieties. With such uncertainty, children will be looking to you for calmness and consistency.

Childcare providers are essential year-round, but your role has never been more necessary and meaningful than now. Whether encouraging a young group to dance to a YouTube video, helping children make cards for the elderly or training toddlers on hand washing, remember you’re playing a critical role during a crucial time.

Set yourself up for success.

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