COVID 19 has caused many changes in the life of our nation and communities, and it has especially affected family life. As we navigate these challenging times, we know there are more changes ahead.
It is a stressful situation for adults, but it can be even more disorienting for children, particularly young ones. The anxiety they are grappling with significantly contributes to the overall stress most families face.
It is important for parents to develop a strategy on how best to discuss what is happening. This can be a tall order. Parents are working hard to find ways to keep their children occupied and safe while they are away from school and the routines they have come to know. Trying to keep up with schoolwork on top of everything else only adds to the challenge.
Children sense that something is amiss and avoiding the subject could lead to a greater sense of fear. As the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) states in reference to the importance of talking to children about COVID-19, “none of this easy, but it helps to stay focused on what is possible in order to reinforce a sense of control and to reassure children that they are okay, and that the situation will get better.”
Moreover, acknowledging some level of concern without panicking can result in helping to reinforce the need for children to take the necessary precautions that reduce the risk of illness. As NASP makes clear, “Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking with them about their fears, and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce anxiety.”
Here are some good rules of thumb to keep in mind as you consider your strategy to talk with your children about COVID-19:
Thinking or talking about the worst-case scenario is not good for anyone, especially children. The best way to discuss any problem is to focus on what you can control.
Good hygiene is important regardless of what is happening; now is a great time to explain why this is so.
Emphasize social distancing as a way to be courteous toward others. Focusing only on how others can get them sick will feed their fears rather than assuage them. Positive reinforcement communicates that while social behavior may need to change, it is only temporary and the underlying values of friendliness and politeness are still important.
Make a point of demonstrating that you are washing your hands often, avoiding touching public surfaces, and social distancing. Finding ways to occupy your time productively will demonstrate that they do not need to be frozen by fear.
Let children know that any questions are just fine whenever they may arise.
Adding confusion through unfamiliar terms and concepts can create greater anxiety.
Let your children’s questions guide you. Children have a tendency to ask what is on their mind, so do not feel that you have to explain every little detail.
Discuss what was happening in class and how their schools are working to supplement their schoolwork. Help them with any virtual assignments or come up with some simple assignments on your own.
There is a lot of information about the Coronavirus that can be gained from using the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a resource. Of course, the people who know how best to communicate with children are you! Hopefully, these rules of thumb will help you to formulate your family-specific strategy.