Some helpful tips in the midst of this unusual time
Talking to our children about the current situation to address their fears:
- Prepare yourself
Educate yourself on how the disease is transmitted and how severe it can be.
- Decide how much you want to tell your child — but be honest.
Your approach to the COVID-19 talk will depend on your parenting style and your child.
- Let your child drive the conversation
Ask them what their questions are and what they have concerns about and don’t necessarily provide them with additional information.
There are lots of things that we as adults worry about and think about and want to plan for, and if your kids aren’t interested in that, then they don’t necessarily need to know about it.
- Variation among your children
The ‘coronavirus talk’ might even vary across different children within the same family. Each child can tolerate different amounts of information, details and discussions.
Empower your child with knowledge:
We all feel powerless when things are beyond our control so we need to have something that we can do. For children, here are a few ideas of how knowledge will help them feel less powerless as they can do these things in order to protect themselves and their family. Just leaving them with nothing to think about lets them fill the void with things that are not desirable.
Teach your child good respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene.
Remind them to cover their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze; use tissues when coughing or sneezing and dispose of them afterward; wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after using the bathroom and before eating or drinking; and avoid touching their faces.
- Sharing belongings
Remind teens not to share food, drink or makeup with friends or classmates.
Age appropriate sharing of information is important:
- Younger children might need a more layperson-friendly explanation of COVID-19, something like:
There’s a new virus that scientists discovered that is a lot like the flu, but we don’t have any vaccines, and no one’s ever had it before — so a lot of people could get sick. The good news is that almost everybody’s going to be just fine, but there are a lot of things that we can do to help keep it from spreading too fast.
- You can even try to make hand hygiene fun for younger children:
by singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for the 20-second hand-washing duration, or making a game out of who can go the longest without touching their face.
- Older kids will need a little more science, as they’re consuming news coverage and might have a firmer grasp of biology.
They’re already going to have a lot of the basic information. It’s more about giving them parental and peer support. For example, a preteen or teen might not feel particularly “cool” being hyper-vigilant about hand-washing, but you can speak in realistic terms about the consequences. While missing a few days of school might sound fun, it’s organized so you don’t get coronavirus, and no, you can’t go out to the mall or you can’t go to the movies for two weeks.
Prepare them for a longer stay at home
Your children might eventually need to stay home for a longer period of time, whether it’s due to school closure or them getting sick, and they may want some input on what they would like to have on hand in such a scenario. Such planning can prime your family both practically and psychologically. That way when it happens, we can say: “Oh yes, we prepared for this.”
- We don’t want to scare our children
we want to make sure they feel safe, and that we’re doing everything that we can to keep them safe.
They (and the adults around them) should understand that there will eventually be some kind of end to the current COVID-19 outbreak, and that life will more or less return to normal.
It’s important to acknowledge that they may have heard or seen a lot about this, but there really isn’t a reason for fear right now. Most COVID-19 cases so far have been mild. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it’s OK to tell kids that, after all, it’s better to admit you don’t know something than to provide false reassurance or false alarm. Look up the answer together as a family activity.
If your child thinks they have coronavirus:
- Talk about the symptoms associated with it and check which they experience.
These include fever, cough and shortness of breath and might appear two to 14 days after exposure. Initial symptoms can be similar to those of the common cold and flu.
- If your kid is struggling with anxiety or bad dreams
related to the coronavirus, reach out to your paediatrician or school psychologist for advice. We will soon be posting a guide to helping children cope with stress associated with COVID-19.
Remind them that we’re all in this together.
Your children might have to make sacrifices as the disease continues to spread, like not being able to visit Grandma when they’re sick, or having to miss a chess-club tournament, and it’s important to listen to their feelings and concerns. But you can also frame these acts as part of their social responsibility to protect others and be a good community member.
We are all going to have to work together to slow the spread of this and protect the more vulnerable among us.
It’s a great time to teach your children about prosocial behaviour, of avoiding getting other people sick, staying home when you’re sick, and having to give up things that we like to do because it’s better for everybody.
As schools close and workplaces go remote to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, parents everywhere are struggling to keep children healthy and occupied. If you’re anxious about how to protect and nurture kids through this situation, juggling work responsibilities at the same time, you’re in good (virtual) company. Many parents like you are in the same boat.
Here are some tips to help calm fears, manage stress and keep the peace.
Keep routines in place
The experts all agree that setting and sticking to a regular schedule is key, even when you’re all at home all day. Children should get up, eat and go to bed at their normal times. Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. Children, especially younger ones or those who are anxious, benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and when.
The schedule can mimic a school or day camp schedule, changing activities at predictable intervals, and alternating periods of study and play.
It may help to print out a schedule and go over it as a family each morning. Setting a timer will help kids know when activities are about to begin or end. Having regular reminders will help limit or eliminate meltdowns when it’s time to transition from one thing to the next.
Be creative about new activities and exercise
Incorporate new activities into your routine, like doing a puzzle or having family game time in the evening. For example, my son and I loved baking together when he was small.
Build in activities that help everyone get some exercise (without contact with other children or things touched by them, like playground equipment). Take a daily family walk or bike ride, great ways to let kids burn off energy and make sure everyone is staying active.
David Anderson, PhD, a clinical psychologist, recommends brainstorming ways to go “back to the 80s,” before the time of screen prevalence. He’s been asking parents to think about their favorite activities at summer camp or at home before screens. They often then generate lists of arts and crafts activities, science projects, imaginary games, musical activities, board games, household projects, etc.
Manage your own anxiety
It’s completely understandable to be anxious right now (how could we not be?) but how we manage that anxiety has a big impact on our children. Keeping your worries in check will help your whole family navigate this uncertain situation as easily as possible.
Avoid catastrophic thinking, for example, assuming every cough is a sign you’ve been infected, or reading news stories that dwell on worst-case scenarios. Keep a sense of perspective, engage in solution-focused thinking and balance.
For those moments when you do catch yourself feeling anxious, try to avoid talking about your concerns within earshot of children. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, step away and take a break. That could look like taking a shower or going outside or into another room and taking a few deep breaths.
Limit consumption of news
Staying informed is important, but it’s a good idea to limit consumption of news and social media that has the potential to feed your anxiety, and that of your children. Turn the TV off and mute or unfollow friends or co-workers who are prone to sharing panic-inducing posts.
Take a social media break or make a point of following accounts that share content that take your mind off the crisis, whether it’s about nature, art, baking or crafts.
Stay in touch virtually
Keep your support network strong, even when you’re only able to call or text friends and family. Socializing plays an important role in regulating your mood and helping you stay grounded. And the same is true for your children.
Let children use social media (reasonably) and Skype or FaceTime to stay connected to peers even if they aren’t usually allowed to do so. Communication can help children feel less alone and mitigate some of the stress that comes from being away from friends.
Technology can also help younger children feel closer to relatives or friends they can’t see at the moment. Some grandparents video chat with their grandchildren and read them (digital) bedtime stories. It’s not perfect, but it helps all feel closer and less stressed.
In the face of events that are scary and largely out of our control, it’s important to be proactive about what you can control. Making plans helps you visualize the near future. How can your children have virtual play dates? What can your family do that would be fun outside? What are your favourite foods you can cook during this time? Make lists that children can add to. Seeing you problem-solve in response to this crisis can be instructive and reassuring for children.
Even better, assign them tasks that will help them feel that they are part of the plan and making a valuable contribution to the family.
Keep it positive
Though adults are feeling apprehensive, to most children the words “School’s closed” are cause for celebration. Some children were thrilled when they first found out schools would be closing. Parents should validate that feeling of excitement and use it as a springboard to help them stay calm and happy.
Let them know that you’re glad they’re excited, but make sure they understand that though it may feel like vacations they’ve had in the past, things will be different this time. For example, you can say that it’s so cool to have everyone home together. We’re going to have a good time! Remember, though, we’ll still be doing work and sticking to a regular schedule.
Keep children in the loop, but keep it simple
Talk to children in a clear, reasonable way about what’s going on as it’s the best way to help them understand. But remember they don’t need to know every little thing. Unless they ask specifically, there’s no reason to volunteer information that might worry them.
Check in with little children
Young children may be oblivious to the facts of the situation, but they may still feel unsettled by the changes in routine, or pick up on the fact that people around them are worried and upset. Plan to check in with younger children periodically and give them the chance to process any worries they may be having. Children who are having more tantrums than usual, are being defiant or act out may actually be feeling anxious. Pick a calm, undistracted time and gently ask how they’re feeling and make sure to respond to outbursts in a calm, consistent, comforting way.
Sometimes the path of least resistance is the right path
Remember to be reasonable and kind to yourself. We all want to be our best parenting selves as much as we can, but sometimes that best self is the one that says, “Go for it,” when a child asks for more time on the iPad.
Maybe your children don’t have TV or screens on the weeknights during the school year, but now that school is cancelled or online, we can give ourselves license to relax these boundaries a bit. We can explain to them that this is a unique situation and the boundaries will be back when life returns to normal.
Accept and ask for help
If you have a partner at home, agree that you’ll trade off when it comes to childcare. Especially if one or both of you are working from home and have younger children. That way everyone gets a break and some breathing space.
Everyone who can help, should. Give children age appropriate jobs. For example, teens might be able to help take care/watch younger siblings when both parents have to work. Most children can set the table, help keep common spaces clean, do dishes or take out the trash. Even toddlers can learn to pick up their own toys. Working as a team will help your whole family stay busy and make sure no one person (mom) is overwhelmed and overtired.
Be creative and be flexible, and try not to be hard on yourself. You have to find a balance that works for your family.
Here is another little handbook telling us a bit about how to avoid passing anxiety on to our kids, and presenting some basic stress management techniques. Hope you will find it useful.
It happens sometimes that we have a tough day ahead and in the morning our thoughts drift away naturally. And at the same time the situation on a home front gets out of hand substantially. Just then we get super stressed and frustrated. We feel overwhelmed, and lash out on our children for no apparent reason, when we don’t really mean to, and we can see that it affects them. We can see it in their faces not that they’re always scared, but at least they see our negativity. Totally unpleasant experience. They don’t want to see us upset. Thus what can we do as parents not to drop our anxieties on our kids?
Taking cues from you
Witnessing a parent in a state of anxiety can be more than just momentarily unsettling for children. Children look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous situations.
If a parent seems consistently anxious and fearful, the child will determine that a variety of scenarios are unsafe.
And there is evidence that children of anxious parents are more likely to exhibit anxiety themselves, a probable combination of genetic risk factors and learned behaviours.
It can be painful to think that, despite our best intentions, we may find ourselves transmitting our own stress to our child. But if we are dealing with anxiety and start to notice our child exhibiting anxious behaviours, the first important thing is not to start feeling guilty. Plus the transmission of anxiety from parent to child is not inevitable. The second important thing to do is implement strategies to help ensure that you do not pass your anxiety on to your children. That means managing your own stress as effectively as possible, and helping your children manage theirs.
Learn stress management techniques
It can be very difficult to communicate a sense of calm to our child when we are struggling to cope with our own anxiety.
A psychologist can help to work through methods of stress management that will suit our specific needs. As we learn to tolerate stress, we will in turn be teaching our child—who takes cues from our behaviour—how to cope with situations of uncertainty or doubt.
Model stress tolerance
We might find ourselves learning strategies that we can then impart to our children when they are feeling anxious. If, for example, we are working on thinking rationally during times of stress, we can practice those same skills with our child.
Try to maintain a calm, neutral demeanour in front of your child, even as you are working on your anxiety. Keep in mind that your facial expressions, the words you choose, and the intensity of the emotions you express, are soaked in as children are reading you like little sponges and they pick up on everything.
Explain your anxiety
While we don’t want our child to witness every anxious moment we experience, we do not have to constantly suppress our emotions. It’s okay—and even healthy—for children to see their parents cope with stress every now and then, but we want to explain why we reacted in the way we did.
Talking about anxiety gives children permission to feel stress, and sends the message that stress is manageable.
Make a plan
Come up with strategies in advance for managing specific situations that trigger your stress.
We may even involve our child in the plan. If, for example, you find yourself feeling anxious about getting your children ready for bed by a reasonable hour, talk to them about how you can work together to better handle this stressful transition in the future.
Maybe you can come up with a plan that they earn points toward a privilege whenever they go through the evening routine without protesting bedtime.
These strategies should be used carefully: we don’t want to put the responsibility on our child to manage our anxiety but let them know that stress can be tolerated and managed.
Know when to disengage
If we know that a situation causes us stress, we might want to plan ahead to withdraw from that situation so our children will not interpret it as unsafe. Let’s say, for example, that bringing our children to school fills us with separation anxiety.
Eventually you want to be able to take your child to school, but if you are still in tears, you can ask a co-parent or co-adult to handle the drop off. You don’t want to model this very worried, concerned expression upon separating from your kids. You don’t want them to think that there’s anything dangerous about school.
In general, if you feel overwhelmed with anxiety in the presence of your child, try to take a break, leave the situation: take a walk, drink tea, take a bath, or just get out the door.
Find a support system
Trying to parent while struggling with your own mental health can be a challenge, but you don’t have to do it alone.
Rely on the people in your life who will step in when you feel overwhelmed, or even just offer words of support. Those people can be psychologists, co-parents, or friends.
You can also look for support on blogs, forums, and social media.
Should you have any concerns or need to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact me. firstname.lastname@example.org