How can we help our children cope with COVID-19?
Even though we have seen a decline in cases in Colorado and our communities and businesses are beginning to open, children and families may still be struggling with implications of the virus on a daily basis. “Normal” summer activities and plans are being drastically altered or canceled which can cause significant disruptions in routines. These disruptions can lead to feelings of sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger, fear, and worry. Furthermore, there is little clarity of what the return to school will look like in the fall. It is our job as parents and caregivers to create a safe space in which children can explore their feelings and ask questions.
How should I approach this conversation?
Children naturally look to the adults in their lives for cues on how to respond to new or difficult situations, which means that we must manage our own fears and anxieties first. When talking with your children you should remain calm and reassuring. You do not have to completely hide your own feelings but you want to avoid creating unnecessary anxiety by appearing overly emotional. Provide children with factual and age-appropriate information. Ask them about things they have heard about the virus and try to correct any misconceptions. It is important, to be honest, children are likely to ask very difficult questions and although the answers may be scary, it is imperative that our children believe that we are going to tell them the truth. Focus on validating their emotions, reminding them that the things they are feeling make sense based on what they are going through. Please avoid trying to convince them that their feelings are wrong or silly. Their feelings may not always make sense to us but it is critical that they feel like we will hear them.
What should the conversation look like?
Early Elementary School age: Keep the conversation brief and simple, balance facts with reassurances, and give simple examples of what is keeping everyone healthy.
Upper Elementary/Early Middle School age: This age group will more likely ask ‘what if’ questions about safety – so they may need help separating reality from rumors and/or fantasy. You should also discuss efforts being taken to stop the spread of the virus.
Upper Middle School/High School age: This age group will likely be able to discuss the issue more in-depth, so it is important to provide fully honest and accurate information, as well as refer them to appropriate resources if necessary (cdc.gov)
What else can I do to help my kids?
- Maintain a daily routine – predictability and consistency are key in helping children feel safe and in control. Try to keep their routines as normal as possible.
- Have ongoing conversations – the situation will continue to change as will state and local regulations which will in turn affect the family’s decisions about what is best for them. Include your children in these decisions as much as possible to help them understand what is happening.
- Limit media exposure – this means monitoring their media usage as well as your own. Constant exposure to updates can be anxiety providing and even having the news on in the background can be problematic for younger children who may not understand what is being discussed.
- Encourage and model a healthy lifestyle – This includes things like handwashing and mask-wearing but also things like a healthy diet, exercising, and getting enough sleep.
- Teach and model healthy coping skills – Practice activities such as mindfulness and breathing exercises as a family. You can help children connect virtually with friends and family who you may not be able to visit. When children become overwhelmed, distraction is an effective technique. The goal in these situations is to cope with the strong emotion, not to solve the problem. Try mental distractions (coloring books, word searches), physical distractions (exercise or dance), and engage the senses by asking children to smell or taste something.
Important: While we should all expect changes in behavior for children at this challenging time, be on the lookout for dangerous or unsafe behaviors that might require professional help. Dangerous behaviors might include threats of violence, signs of suicidal thoughts, suspected abuse, and more.
Please keep in mind that these are only a few helpful tips overviewing this complex subject of how parents can help children cope with COVID-19, but there are a number of great resources out there if further information is needed.
Courtesy of Cedar Springs Hospital