Tips on talking to children about the COVID-19 Pandemic
Answers to how to minimize anxiety in children during this difficult time.
By Dr. Maria Lombardi, pediatrician, Nuvance Health
With school closures, sports games cancellations and family vacations postponed due to the evolving spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), it is important to remember the toll this may be taking on children. They may be experiencing anxiety about catching the virus or perhaps, their grandparents getting sick, not knowing how to express their concerns and emotions. Parents, extended family members and teachers play an important role in minimizing those fears by providing a sense of calm, as well as clear and honest information that is understandable for their age level.
Here are some tips on how you can talk to your children during these challenging times:
Support: Encourage your kids to ask questions and talk about how they are processing the information they are receiving. While it is understandable to want to shield them from bad news, not addressing the situation may ramp up their fears. They may also be receiving misinformation from friends and social media that you would want to correct.
Don’t Panic: Talk to them calmly. Children mimic their parent’s actions so if you are panicked or stressed, they will be too. Stick to the facts in a way that is understandable for their age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is a trusted source for factual, up-to-date information, as well as your state and local health departments and hospitals.
Boundaries: Limit screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information can bring on unnecessary worry. Let them know that some information on the Internet may be hearsay and inaccurate.
Comfort: Provide reassurances. Tell children the reason their school play was canceled or their family trip postponed is because these actions will help contain the spread of COVID-19. Let them know that there are many people working hard to keep everyone safe.
Empower: As more and more children are home from school for an extended period of time, provide opportunities to pick an activity for the day or put them in charge of ensuring everyone in the house is washing their hands frequently. Also, stick to routines throughout the day, including setting school work times, reading hour, exercise and eating. This will give them some control of their environment during these times of uncertainty.
Hygiene: Remind them of the importance of continuous proper hygiene, including:
- Washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially before eating and after using the bathroom. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and/or Happy Birthday is about 20 seconds long.
- To cough or sneeze into a tissue or the crook of their arm and immediately throw out the tissue after use.
- Not sharing food or drinks.
Empowering children with information and the tools they need to prevent infection, will go a long way toward reducing their anxieties, getting through this difficult period, as well as providing them with coping mechanisms for the future.