LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Children are being affected by the political unrest and complications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Two Kentucky Baptist children’s ministry leaders say parents can help children cope.
“During the past ten months, children and youth have been exposed through continuous media to a global pandemic and civil unrest. The reality that many of these kids are home from school with their normal extracurricular activities canceled has them interacting with this information at an increasing frequency,” said Matt Flanagan, Kentucky Baptist Convention children and student ministry consultant.
He says some children are responding with higher levels of stress, anxiety and uncertainty. “Parents should look for any depressive symptoms in their children such as irritability, sadness, withdrawal or changes in sleep or appetite,” Flanagan said.
According to Flanagan, parents should always be watching for children to exhibit lower levels of energy or make statements revealing a feeling of worthlessness or hopelessness.
Most children are resilient when it comes to challenging situations, according to Terre Jasper, children and women’s ministry director at Porter Memorial Baptist in Lexington. However, she notes, “In the past several years, I have seen more kids experiencing panic attacks and anxiety. If this happens at church, I always like to sit with them and hear what they are thinking. In my experience, most are having issues with worst-case scenario thinking.”
Flanagan says it’s essential for parents to talk with children every day about anxiety or fear triggers. “Reserve time each day to devote to conversations with your children and ask questions that allow them to interact with what they are learning. Symptoms in children that may seem a phase or insignificant can develop into harmful behaviors if a child is not appropriately nurtured through times of anxiety.”
Jasper encourages parents to avoid overreacting and to steer their children toward truth. “If kids ask questions about things that are going on in current events, take the time to answer. Choose your answers carefully and stick to reassuring facts,” she said.
Flanagan shares threes encouragements for parents to spiritually nurture their children in times of anxiety:
--Talk about how God has worked and provided. Children need to hear their parents recall Scripture to use as a reference for understanding current events. Additionally, discuss times in their lives when God has worked or provided for their family. Remind them that God is the creator and is in control even when it seems the world is upside down. Remind them how sin has tainted God’s creation and that people who do harmful things are not beyond redemption through Christ.
--Commit to praying together as a family. The Bible teaches us to cast all our cares and anxiety on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). The best way that we do this as followers of Christ is through prayer. Involve your children in prayer time. For younger children, think through creative ways to share their cares and anxieties and cast them on God. Ask teenagers to specifically pray for people involved in the current events to help remind them that they, too, are people in need of God’s grace.
--Do something. Our youngest generation struggles to idly sit and watch the world. Find age-appropriate ways for your family to be an instrument of grace to your community and the world. Our children need to be reminded as believers with the Holy Spirit, they are more than conquerors!
Jasper encourages parents to make the home a safe, predictable and fun place. “Let kids play, laugh and get outside,” she says.
According to Flanagan, the consumption of social media is also a contributor to angst in children and teenagers. “Parents need to monitor how much information children are receiving on current events. Teenagers typically won’t sit down with their parents to watch the evening news, but they may spend hours alone on their phones reading opinions and beliefs that are shaping their perspective of the world,” he says.
Jasper also encourages parents to help their children develop daily habits of reading their Bible. She points to Bibles such as Foundations and Explore the Bible that have been created by LifeWay to help children read the Scriptures.
If parents need partners to help their children, Jasper encourages them to reach out to helpers around them. “Do not hesitate to have your child talk to someone you trust, like your children’s minister, pastor or a school counselor,” she said.