We’re currently navigating uncharted waters as we all rapidly adjust our lives to respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak. For young children, this time can be especially challenging.  Not only have all of our daily routines been altered, but also our children have been distanced from friends, school and the after-school activities that bring them connection and joy. They may also be witnessing their parents in a heightened state of distress. Further compounding the issue, parents may be hesitant to talk to their children about what’s going on in the world or may underestimate the impact of current events on their children’s well-being. Understandably, striking the right balance can be difficult. However, parents, family members, school staff and other trusted adults can play an important role in helping children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear. To help children understand these changes to their daily lives and to create a sense of safety and security, open communication is key. Below are some helpful strategies to consider. 

 

Get Grounded:  Rather than clearly articulating their worries and fears during times of stress, children may demonstrate changes in mood and behavior. These may include more emotional ups  and downs, rigidity, difficulties with separation, aggression, withdrawal, or changes in appetite, sleep, toileting or concentration. During these times, they will need more loving reassurance, patience and guidance in managing their emotions. Calm yourself first so that you can best support your child. Children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others. Be mindful of your own fears, worries, judgements, or biases. These will influence your child’s understanding and reactions. Practice self-compassion and acceptance of your experience. These are indeed scary times! When parents and caregivers deal with a stressful situation calmly and confidently, they can provide the best support for their children.

 

Be Present: Provide opportunities for your children to ask any questions they may have.  Make time to talk and check in regularly as new questions may arise over time.  Make sure your children know they can come to you whenever they have questions. Avoid the tendency to tell  children “not to worry.”  Instead, normalize and acknowledge their worries.  Remind them of other challenges they have faced and overcome in their lives.  Although knowledge can help all of us feel more in control, both adults and children can become more distressed if they are repeatedly exposed to media. Consider limiting the amount of exposure you and your family get to media coverage and rely on trusted sources for information like the Centers for Disease Control. Limit exposure to conversations among adults that might increase fear and anxiety.  Even our youngest children are finely attuned to the emotion communicated by tone of voice, facial expressions and body language and will learn how to respond based on the reactions of the important others in their lives. 

Set the Stage: The best way to begin any difficult conversation with a child, is to start from a position of curiosity.  Ask your child questions regarding what they know already. What have they heard and what do they think? How do they feel about it? Why do they think the changes in their daily lives have occurred? This will help us correct any misconceptions and adjust our answers to what’s most appropriate for their age and developmental stage and can set the stage for a meaningful discussion. Visit the CDC’s page to learn more about helping children cope during emergencies

 

Stay Factual:  Be honest and provide loving, realistic reassurance. Help children understand the nature of the pandemic by building upon existing knowledge structures. Children will easily relate to the concept of illness and recovery and are familiar with the measures we typically take to  stay healthy.  Some facts to discuss may include: 

    • COVID-19 is a new virus that doctors and scientists are still learning about. Recently, this virus has made a lot of people sick. 

    • Doctors and scientists think that most people will be ok, especially kids, but some people might get pretty sick. For many people, being sick is a little bit like having the flu. People can get a fever, cough,                  

or have a hard time taking deep breaths.  

    • Most people who have gotten COVID-19 have not gotten very sick. Only a small group of people who get it have had more serious problems.  From what doctors have seen so far, most children don’t seem to get very sick.

    • If you do get sick, it doesn’t mean you have COVID-19.  People can get sick from all kinds of germs. If you do get sick, the adults at home and school will help you get any help that you need.  

    • There are a lot of helpers! Doctors, nurses, first responders, grocery workers, garbage truck drivers, mail deliverers, teachers, religious leaders, community leaders, and more, are all working together to figure out how to help people through this hard time.  We can share our gratitude with our kids. This can help all of us keep a more balanced perspective. 

 

Take Action: One of the best ways to combat uncertainty and helplessness is by controlling  what is within your control.  Social distancing and family hygiene are the most critical and important factors that parents can control during this COVID-19 outbreak.  Families can encourage social connection while supporting physical distancing. These actions are powerful tools and provide a sense of agency.

 

Talk to your children about the rules that scientists and doctors tell us will help keep everyone healthy, including: 

 

    • Remind them to give people who are coughing, sneezing or sick ample space. 

    • Teach them to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue in the trash.  

    • Encourage them to keep their hands out of their mouth, nose, and eyes to keep germs out of their bodies. 

    • Get them into the hand washing habit and teach them proper ways to wash and use hand sanitizer as outlined by the CDC.  

    • Stay home as much as possible. Avoid unnecessary errands and do not congregate in groups. 

    • Set a routine for your children to provide structure, stability, predictability and a sense of security.  For example, establish outdoor time, artistic time, reading time, family time and most importantly, fun times to relax and play.  Be flexible with expectations (i.e., chores  and home schooling), choosing connection and kindness over productivity. 

    • Encourage children to play outside. Get fresh and run around. Try to avoid playground fixtures that may transmit the virus. 

    • Set up virtual play dates involving games and interacting with friends from a safe distance, draw pictures for friends, or write letters to mail. 

    • Look for opportunities to do good. Make thank you cards for people who are helping the community, fundraise, donate blood if you’re healthy to support those in need, leave groceries on a neighbors doorstep, or draw pictures as gifts for people who can’t have visitors, such as those in nursing homes. 

 

Lead by Example:  Take good care of yourself first.  Set a good example by maintaining careful hygiene and managing your stress through healthy lifestyle choices. Eat healthy, exercise regularly, practice self-care and relaxation, maintain a schedule and get plenty of sleep. When you are prepared, rested, and relaxed you can respond better to unexpected events and can make decisions in the best interest of your family.

 

These are unprecedented times.  However, our most challenging times are also the times of greatest opportunity.  We have the choice to slow down, turn in, and practice leading a values-driven life.  Our children are eager to care for others, connect with those we love, and to find community and purpose in the face of adversity. We have never been more connected towards a common goal as a global community as we are now.  We are all interconnected and will get through this - together. 

 

Wellness and Mental Health Resources for Kids and Families:

    Mindful Wellness

    - Headspace: (2 week free trial). Mindfulness app for improved wellness.

    - Calm: (7 day free trial). A meditation, sleep, and relaxation app.

    - Mindful Schools (Free). Online meditation classes for kids (TWTh 10:00 AM PDT).

    - Insight Timer: (Free). A variety of meditations.    

    Sleep 

    - CBT-i Coach - (Free). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Insomnia.

    Mental Health

    - Stop, Breathe & Think: (Free). Kids and family resource

    - 10% Happier: (Free and paid options).

    - National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.        

    - Talkspace (Paid). 24/7 access to mental health professionals via text or video.

    - Psychology Today find local mental health practitioners in your area.

 

© 2020 Courage Project

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