COVID-19 is on everyone’s minds right now. Information overload, rumors and misinformation can make you feel out of control and make it unclear what to do. When you feel this way, your kids may feel it too, and they often can sense the way you’re feeling. Talking to them about what’s going on can be challenging, but it’s necessary to help them navigate their thoughts and feelings.
Here are some things to remember when talking with your child about COVID-19:
Learn What Your Child Already Knows
Ask questions geared to your child’s age level, and build on their answers. Follow their lead, and focus on what they are curious or worried about.
Offer Comfort — and Honesty
Focus on helping your child feel safe, but be truthful. You can let them know that there are still a lot of things we don’t know, but that we do know ways to keep ourselves safe. Talk to children calmly and reassuringly, give them time and space to share their concerns and fears, and validate their feelings.
Help Kids Feel in Control
Give your child specific things to do to feel in control, like washing their hands often. It’s easy to feel helpless and scared right now, but when we focus on actions we can take to keep ourselves, and our friends and family safe, we feel more empowered and less fearful. Things like staying home except for essential trips, social distancing and washing our hands are all things we can do as individuals that will make a larger impact.
Put news stories that may be concerning into context. Watch the news with children so you can explain what they’re hearing and answer their questions. Let kids know that it’s normal to feel stressed out at times. Recognizing these feelings and knowing that stressful times pass and life gets back to normal can help children build resilience.
Keep the Conversation Going
Keep checking in with your child. Their feelings may change over time, from fear about the virus, to anger that it’s causing such a disruption in their lives. Watch for changes in behavior, and continue to validate any new feelings they may have. Seek help or advice if necessary. If you notice persistent problems with sleep, changes in eating habits or difficulty concentrating on typical tasks, or if your kids have a persistent sense of hopelessness, excessive sadness or overwhelming worry, contact your doctor or a mental health professional for advice.
Older children and teens may have their own specific challenges with COVID-19. Many teens are able to experience more freedom and autonomy as they get older, and are now having that scaled back with the Stay Home, Stay Healthy order. Here are some tips for talking with older children and teens about COVID-19:
Emphasize social distancing. Remind teens that social distancing is vital to stopping the spread. Share information or models that show why staying home is so important, so they can understand the impact their actions can have on others. Even if someone feels fine, they could potentially be an asymptomatic carrier, and spread the virus to someone they love.
Understand their frustration over not seeing friends. Friendships are extremely important to teens, and having to remain isolated from friends can be devastating. Talk to them about things to make the situation better, and listen to their ideas. Loosening some restrictions after having had to tighten others may make things more bearable for them.
Support remote schooling. Help teens create a realistic schedule that allows for learning opportunities along with time to relax or focus on their own interests.
Encourage healthy habits, like eating well, exercising and getting a good amount of sleep. Model this in your own behavior as well. Healthy habits are especially important for anyone who is struggling with anxiety or depression.
Validate their disappointment. Many teens are missing out on important experiences, like dances, sports and clubs or other activities. Give them room to share their feelings without judgement, and allow them to vent if they need to. Then let them know that you trust in their ability to rebound from this.
Help them practice mindfulness. Let them know that it’s ok to experience whatever emotions they may be having, and that whatever they’re feeling is normal. Once they accept their feelings, they’ll be able to move on from them and focus on what makes them feel better.
We are all navigating our way through this pandemic one day at a time. As parents, teachers, and caring adults, we can help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent, and supportive manner. By creating an open environment where they feel free to ask questions, we can help children cope with stress and reduce the risk of lasting emotional difficulties. For more information about talking with children, visit the CDC or the Child Mind Institute. For mental health resources, visit Whatcom County’s COVID-19 mental health page.