The Coronavirus is causing stress, panic and uncertainty for many adults around the world. Think of how overwhelming this is for children. Kids thrive on routine, structure and predictability. We have anything but that right now. You only have to turn on any television station, view your social media headlines on your phone or walk into a grocery store to figure out we are in unchartered territory.
School and all extra-curricular events are cancelled for all our kids and they are repeatedly being asked to wash their hands and not get too close to their friends. This is a lot for kids to deal with and especially difficult for kids who have underlying anxiety. The following are some ideas for parents and caregivers to help their kids during this uncertain time:
- First and foremost, keep your own behavior and conversations in check. Kids are notoriously good at overhearing cell phone conversations. Kids take their cues from you. If you are panicked and stockpiling items and glued to the T.V. reports, your child will certainly pick up on this and feel anxious. Model calm behavior. We can be careful, diligent and concerned without going into full panic mode which with help nothing. Practice good handwashing and tell your child to do the same and go about your day.
- Provide information that is developmentally appropriate. For small children you can tell them,” Right now we have to wash our hands a little more. We can practice our ABC Song (or another song) as well while we wash our hands!”. For older children, find out what they already know. Make sure they have accurate information. Answer their questions honestly. Let them know you don’t have all the answers. Tell them there are experts working to find the answers and keep us safe.
- Help them manage their worries. At my practice, I talk to kids about “The Worry Bug”. I tell them “That’s just the Worry Bug trying to trick your brain again”. Let’s tell that Worry Bug what we really know to be true. I ask them “What is the Worry Bug telling you?”. We talk through what their concerns are. Provide reassurance but not false hope. Let them know it is a parent’s job to help them when they are worried.
- Listen and be empathetic. Many kids I talk to do not feel listened to. They say their parents are too busy with work or on their phones. Get down to your child’s eye level and be truly present. Tell them “I know you are worried”. “I am here for you and you are my number one priority”. “It can be scary when a new illness comes around that we are trying to figure out how to treat”. “We can practice precautions like hand washing and staying away from large groups to help us stay healthy”.
While this is stressful for many parents who are trying to work and now have childcare or additional financial concerns, maybe we can also use this time to do things with our kids that we normally could not to because we are competing with extra-curricular activities or playing with friends. Maybe, just maybe we can find one positive to come out of this.
Thinking of all of you,
Debbie L. Conley, LCSW