It is a difficult time for families with trying to manage your work, child care, and self-care as well as handling you and your family's worries. You are not alone and my practice is here to help. Below are a few helpful topics to help support your loved ones. Please keep in mind about the option of teletherapy that is available to anyone in Texas.
Talking to Kids about Corona virus COVID-19:
- Deal with your own anxiety. “When you’re feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to your kids about what’s happening with the coronavirus,” warns Dr. Domingues. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about COVID-19 with your child. Not talking about something can actually make kids worry more. A great way to start is to ask them what they know and/or might have heard already, and let that guide your discussion. Answer whatever questions they may have to the best of your ability.
- Look at the conversation as an opportunity to convey the facts and set the emotional tone. “You take on the news and you’re the person who filters the news to your kid,” explains Janine Domingues, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Your goal is to help your children feel informed and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.
- Be developmentally appropriate. Don’t volunteer too much information, as this may be overwhelming. Instead, try to answer your child’s questions. Do your best to answer honestly and clearly. It’s okay if you can’t answer everything; being available to your child is what matters.
- Validate whatever feelings or concerns your child may have, and provide realistic assurance (for example, “Doctors say that the best way to stay healthy is to wash our hands, so we are!” or “Scientists and doctors are working hard to learn more about this new virus so we can know how to beat it.”).
- Take your cues from your child. Invite your child to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.
- 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. Jamie Howard, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, notes, “Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe.” We know that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands as the primary means of staying healthy. So remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom. If kids ask about face masks, explain that the experts at the CDC say they aren’t necessary for most people. If kids see people wearing face masks, explain that those people are being extra cautious.
- Keep talking. Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more. “Let them know that the lines of communication are going to be open,” says Dr. Domingues. “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, too.’”
Tips for nurturing and protecting children at home:
- No matter their age, maintaining routines and consistency is important for all youth. If routines are disrupted by COVID-19-related guidelines (e.g., school closures), work to build other routines and predictability to help them adjust to this new, temporary normal.
- Model good coping strategies, and consider doing some activities together as a family — read a book together, have a dance party in the living room, have a group video call to a beloved relative.
- The Child Mind Institute, recommends brainstorming ways to go “back to the 80s,” before the time of screen prevalence. “I’ve been asking parents to think about their favorite activities at summer camp or at home before screens,” he says. “They often then generate lists of arts and crafts activities, science projects, imaginary games, musical activities, board games, household projects, etc.”
Children will do better during this stressful time if they get adequate sleep, eat healthy meals and exercise regularly. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule, with predictable times to wake up and go to bed, is especially important to maintaining a positive mood
- Do your best to manage your child’s news/information consumption. COVID-19 is getting a lot of coverage in the news and on social media, not all of which is factual or helpful. Continue to engage your child about what they have seen and heard, help them to understand what they are reading, and work to clarify any misconceptions they may have. Furthermore, limit overall exposure to information on various media outlets.
- If you co-parent or otherwise share child-raising duties, make sure you are all on the same page and giving your child the same messages. Disagreements or conflicting information can cause confusion and anxiety in youth.
- Practice Mindfulness techniques can be very helpful in this kind of situation, where our routines are disrupted and we may feel overwhelmed by frustration and disappointment. Mindfulness teaches us to tune into our emotions in any given moment and experience them without judgment.
- “Watch out for catastrophic thinking,” says Mark Reinecke, PhD, a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute. For example, assuming every cough is a sign you’ve been infected, or reading news stories that dwell on worst-case scenarios.
- Make plans. 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 kids have virtual play dates? What can your family do that would be fun outside? What are favorite foods you can cook during this time? Make lists that kids can add to. Seeing you problem solve in response to this crisis can be instructive and reassuring for kids. Even better, assign kids tasks that will help them feel that they are part of the plan and making a valuable contribution to the family.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: Take care of yourself, and whatever you might be feeling or going through. You are the best support to your children when you are feeling good yourself!
Sources: Child Mind Institute and International OCD Foundation
Supporting Teengagers and Young Adults: https://childmind.org/article/supporting-teenagers-and-young-adults-during-the-coronavirus-crisis/
Mental Health and Coping: http://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/coping.html