What Should You Do If Your Kids are Afraid to Leave Home During the Pandemic?

Taking care of kids who are afraid to leave the home due to the Pandemic is a great concern for parents. Essential is to intervene quickly before the child increases his fears exponentially into a disorder called agoraphobia, fear of open spaces. The age of the child matters a great deal with regard to their ability to discuss their fears. Consider pointers recommended at a previous post https://lauriehollmanphd.com/2020/04/10/how-do-you-talk-to-your-kids-about-the-pandemic/ 

which discusses in detail how to talk to your kids about the pandemic.

Given that information, consider the disposition of your child prior to the Pandemic. If this is a child who previously had anxieties about going out, school phobias, or social anxiety the Pandemic restrictions make them more vulnerable. If that is not the case, proceed to talk with your child as recommended in the above article. Your goal is to gently, non-judgmentally, empathically find out what it is your child fears.  You may presume they’re afraid to get sick of course, but consider they may be afraid of dying or you dying and them being left alone. Home is their haven of security. Before disturbing it,  also consider if they are afraid of masked people. If you can discover the underlying fears very specific to your child, then you can take slow behavioral steps to reduce the fear.

Behavioral Suggestions

  1. Open the window and let your child look out and describe what he or she sees. Then have her open the window. If your child enjoys drawing, encourage them to use crayons to draw what they see.
  2. When they are no longer anxious opening the window, open a door and have them look out and describe what they see. Do not rush them out the door, be patient and calm. Again, if they’re so inclined, they could even draw a picture with crayons depicting the scene and if they like, you can do it with them. Hang it on the fridge or in their room.
  3. After a few maybe days of these first steps, take a momentary walk in the front of your house or if you live in an apartment and have just opened the door to the hallway, now you can take an elevator ride down and up, briefly enter the lobby or hall or do the same with the stairs.
  4. Once your child has taken some steps out of the house or apartment, increase the walk bit by bit, always staying by your child’s side.
  5. If you are in an apartment, even going in the hall and then a few days later on the stairs or elevator, it will be necessary to wear a mask.
  6. To prepare to wear the mask, let your child handle it, touch it, smell it and then the next day hold it to their face and remove it so they start feeling in control of the mask themselves.
  7. Let them watch you put the mask on and off as well. It’s disturbing to not see your parent’s face, expressions, and lips move even though the child hears your voice. You may need to discuss your child’s reactions.
  8. If you succeed in these steps without undue anxiety, then take a short walk.
  9. Continue with short walks daily with masks. If your child can put the mask on themselves, that’s a plus because they feel more in control themselves.
  10. Eventually, you may take a short car ride without a mask and don’t get out of the car. Speak with a pleasing voice about all you see. Ask your child what he or she notices on your short ride. Keep a conversation going that is simple and not stressful.
  11. Each step along the way, specifically praise your child for what they’ve done. Empathize with how difficult you understand it is and that you will always be there each new step.
  12. Repetition is key to lowering anxiety with each new behavioral step. Remember we have plenty of time for this, the Pandemic isn’t going to disappear soon, so you can take your time until you’ve achieved your goal.
  13. Then continue short walks or rides every day. In the car, turn music on if your child likes it. They can even watch a short video while in the car like they may have been used to on car rides.
  14. For those in cities, do NOT use public transportation. The risk of exposure is too great. Stick to walks outside always remembering to stay six feet apart. Explain to your child this is just a simple way for everyone to work together to keep themselves and others from getting sick.

In summary, you are trying to slowly reduce your child’s specific anxiety by discovering their particular very individual underlying fears, and then taking slow behavioral steps to reduce their anxiety and help them step out in a safe and secure way by your side. The calmer you are and the more empathic, the calmer your child will become as well. In fact, it’s a great way to build your relationship!

Again, I suggest going to this link as a first step.