It’s not in your head.
If your child seems to increasingly ask, whine, or even beg to do more of the “fun” activities that their friends are doing, then you’re witnessing firsthand the intensifying phenomenon of fear of missing out, or FOMO, during COVID.
FOMO not only involves a sense of longing to do what everyone else is participating in, it also encompasses a sense of anxiety and unhappiness that comes with feeling left out.
Psychology experts say the COVID pandemic has contributed to this growing phenomenon by altering the structure of the school day and changing the way children socialize. Children and teens are spending more time on their phones and connected to social media due to the prolonged period of “life as we know it now.” As a result, they are constantly seeing more of what their friends are doing without them.
“It’s really hard to be a kid right now,” Dr. Jonathan Rosen, a child and adolescent psychologist in New York City tells Parentology. “As we are moving into our ninth month of the pandemic and people are battling COVID fatigue and figuring out what is comfortable for them, it is inevitable that children will notice their friends’ families are doing things differently than their family is… that their friends are doing things they’re not allowed to do.”
Whether your child is feeling left out of an indoor playdate, a sleepover, a birthday party, or even a basketball game, here are some ways you can help them cope if they’re struggling with FOMO during COVID.
First, Stop Feeling Guilty
No parent wants to see their child suffer. “We want so badly to shield them from hard things and to fix their problems for them. But that’s not possible, nor is it even in their best interest,” child psychologist Dr. Jeanette Sawyer Cohen explains to Parentology. She recommends partnering with your child, showing empathy, and modeling resilience instead.
Rosen advises parents to be kind to themselves and to remember this is temporary. “Your rules are based on your values, which may be things like health and safety for your family, following government rules, and the health of your community. You’re not doing this to harm your child, but [to] keep him or her healthy.”
Share Your FOMO During COVID
Whether children are angry, frustrated, or sad that they are missing out on events, experts say it’s important to listen to what they have to say and validate their feelings. “Sometimes the best option is to hear them out and empathize with them rather than tell them how to feel or offer a solution,” says Rosen.
Sawyer Cohen, says she is seeing many children who are angry at their friends for not following rules and teens who are angry at their parents for being ‘overprotective’ or ‘strict’. She also says parents should communicate empathetically to their frustrated kids. For example, “I’m so sorry that your friends are having a sleepover, and our family isn’t doing sleepovers yet.”
Partner with Your Children
Researching and planning activities together is another way to help your children regain a sense of control over their social life, according to Rosen. “This will help to break the monotony for your child and will help to evoke feelings of belonging and participation,” he says.
Sawyer Cohen suggests collaborating with children and teens when they’re ready to listen. For example, “I’d love to help you feel connected to your friends. Even though we’re not doing indoor sleepovers, can we think of any way you can still feel part of the group?”
“Be prepared,” she warns, “For your tween or teen to think all of your ideas are stupid and that you are stupid!” If that happens, she recommends giving them time and space to have those feelings. “Let them know that you aren’t going to push but you are available if and when they are ready to talk. ‘I’m sorry I can’t think of any good ideas, but I would really love to help you feel connected, so let me know if you think of anything.’”
Seek Professional Help
Feeling left out is a normal part of growing up. So how do you know when your child is experiencing unhealthy levels of anxiety or unhappiness?
The key is to watch for significant changes in behavior that are different from pre-pandemic behavior. Some red flags, according to Rosen, include a loss of interest in activities that the child typically enjoys, withdrawal, complaints of headaches or bellyaches, significant changes in appetite, and changes in sleep patterns.
Sawyer Cohen explains, “If your child used to have an easy temperament but suddenly cries or yells frequently, that can be a sign that she is having a hard time.” She adds, “It’s important to keep in mind that stress, anxiety and depression can manifest as chronic moodiness, irritability, or anger.”
The bottom line is you know your child best. If he or she is not acting like him or herself for more than a couple of weeks, it’s time to reach out to your pediatrician or a psychologist for guidance. Sawyer Cohen also notes that if your child makes any comments that might reflect thoughts about suicide or self-harm (even “I wish I were never born’) you should contact a mental health professional.
FOMO During COVID — Sources
Jonathan Rosen, PsyD
Jeanette Sawyer Cohen, PhD
Everyday Parenting Psychology PLLC