For us in California and many other states, everything has turned upside down for our children. They can’t go to school, there are to be no playdates, no sports practice or games, no sleepovers or getting together with a group of friends, no birthday parties, visiting grandma and grandpa or going out to eat at their favorite restaurant with their parents.
They are probably hearing all kinds of things about this virus on TV, social media, phone calls, etc. They need their parents to:
– Calm their fears.
– Cope with their disappointments, anger, and frustrations.
– Answer their questions.
– Respond to unspoken emotions you see or overhear from them.
– Correct confusing or erroneous information they may be hearing.
– Help to structure their time to make these foreign days tolerable.
So don’t avoid discussing or responding to their questions and feelings. Not talking with our kids about their worries and concerns can actually make them more worried. Your conversations can help them to be informed in a calm and reassuring emotional tone. It won’t eliminate they’re being unhappy about all the changes that are disrupting their lives now, but it can help make living through it less stressful.
Here are some thoughts on how to do this in kind and helpful ways.
- Deal with your own anxiety first. Yes, this is a seriously stressful and potentially dangerous situation. If you yourself are feeling highly frightened, anxious or panicked about it, your children will pick this up and despite your best efforts, you’ll transfer these feelings to them no matter what you say or do. The most helpful thing you can do is to be calm and confident that you and your family will get through this one way or the other, even if you don’t know how right now. If you’re having trouble doing this, there is support and are psychological tools to help you. Please reach out so you can be at peace with your job ahead as a parent.
Please, please don’t drink or use drugs to escape your concerns. Your children need you to be clear-headed and on top of things now more than ever. Again help is available for you too so you can be there for them.
- Be up to date on the facts yourself. Because who knows what your children have heard or what they’ve imagined, you need to have accurate, up-to-date, factual information so you have a clear understanding of what’s happening. unfortunately, there have been many conflicting messages, but there are reputable broadcast and internet sites that are keeping the public updated day-by-day by highly regarded medical experts and state officials. Knowing the facts should help you to be less anxious too since there is nothing more anxiety-producing than not knowing or being confused about what’s real and what’s not. Corona Virus: Fact and Fiction on CNN, for example, is a good source of daily updates for this. This level of information is not for your kids; it’s for you so you can filter the information to what they need to know.
- Tailor the conversation to each child’s age. Of course, what you say and how you say it will be different for a preschooler or a high schooler. Whatever their age, avoid giving them a lecture like a school teacher might do. There is much going on your children don’t need to consider, i.e. the shortage of medical supplies, etc., unless of course, they bring it up. Offering too much information can overwhelming. Instead, try to respond to their questions honestly and clearly; then leave the rest ‘til next time it comes up.
- Start from where your child is. Invite them to tell you what you know about the coronavirus and how they feel about it. Ask them what they’ve heard from others. Listen quietly and allow plenty of them for them to explain and ask questions. Answer their questions but avoid prompting questions that may not be on their minds. Do query if you see them crying, moping about or acting out. Kids don’t’ always know what’s bothering them or how to put it into works. They may not want to bother you or imagine that you will think it’s silly. You can help them express such feelings and thoughts and let them know they aren’t silly, you want to talk with them and you will take time to do that.
- Be reassuring but don’t lie or sugar coat.As I’m sure you know children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news or from friends may be enough for them to catastrophize and generate frightening fantasies. They may believe they or their friends will catch it. They may be afraid their grandparents are going to get it and die. It’s helpful to reassure your children with facts that correct their exaggerated fears but not by skirting the facts with comments you can’t support like “Don’t worry honey, we’re all going to be safe. None of us will get this.” Such bromides don’t really ease fears. They can leave kids feeling confused and more likely to come up with more doubts and frightening projections.
- Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe. Remind them that the rules the State has put in place are there to keep people safe. Let them now they are taking care of themselves by following the rules, i.e. washing their hands with soap and water, staying at home, talking on the phone or video chatting with their grandma and grandpa and their friends.
- Keep life as normal as possible. Most of us don’t like uncertainty, but this is especially true for children. So keep family routines as regular as possible. Predictability will be especially helpful right now. This is not a vacation or spring break where we can sleep all morning and play video games into the night. Assure those schoolwork hours, meals and bedtimes remain the same as possible. Hours spent on electronic devices may need to be altered because these are the best means for your kids to maintain their social lives now but continue to monitor that what they do online is appropriate.
- Plan and arrange to replace special things they’re giving up. Do more family activities together. Play games, go on walks or hikes, set up family exercise routines indoors or out, read shared stories, movies or series, take up creative projects, search the web together about the things that interest them. (Examples from my patients, friends, and family: the history of dragons, the lives of favorite sports figures, all about alligators and past pandemics). Plan regular video visits with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Arrange for having video playdates, birthday parties, and shared holiday events.
- Keep talking. Let your kids know you’ll keep them updated about what you learn that could affect them and your family. Be sure they know you’re available to listen and talk about whatever is on their minds. You can say, “Even though we don’t have the answers to everything right now, know that once we know more, mom or dad will let you know, and will be doing what’s best to keep our family safe.”
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