Families are adapting to the evolving changes brought on by COVID-19. Parents and other caregivers are faced with helping their families adjust to the constantly changing new normal. This is not an easy task as children and youth need to be kept occupied, feel safe, and attempt to keep up with school work as much as possible. It is important to remember that children look to adults for guidance and how to react to stressful events. 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. It is an opportunity for adults to model problem-solving, flexibility, and compassion. COVID-19 has forced many of us to get creative about how we spend time together, connecting and supporting friends and family members in new ways, and learning how best to process new information from authorities. Here are some tips that you might find helpful.
Stay Calm, Listen, and Offer Assistance
Be a role model as children will follow your reactions. Be aware of how you talk about COVID-19. It is important to remind them that you will do everything within your power to keep loved ones safe and well.
Explain social distancing. Social distancing means staying away from others until the risk of contracting COVID-19 is under control.
Demonstrate deep breathing. Deep breathing is a valuable tool for calming the nervous system. Do breathing exercises with your children.
Focus on the positive. Celebrate having more time to spend as a family. Do family projects, organize belongings, sing, laugh, and go outside. Allow children to connect with friends virtually.
Establish and maintain a daily routine. Keeping a regular schedule provides a sense of control
Identify projects that might help others. This could include writing to neighbors and relatives stuck at home, sending positive messages through social media, or reading a favorite book to younger friends over a social media platform.
Offer lots of love and affection.
Monitor Television Viewing and Social Media
Watching continual updates on COVID-19 may increase fear and anxiety.
Dispel rumors and inaccurate information. Older children may be accessing a great deal of information online from friends that contains inaccuracies. Talk to your child about factual disease information.
Provide alternatives. Engage your child in games or other exciting activities.
Take Time to Talk
Let your children’s questions guide you. Answer questions truthfully, but don’t offer any unnecessary details or facts. Don’t avoid giving them information that experts indicate as crucial to your child’s well-being.
Be Honest and Accurate
Correct misinformation and stay up-to-date on the facts. Go to https://www.dph.illinois.gov/covid19 and https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html for more information.
Keep Explanations Age-Appropriate
Early elementary school children require brief, simple information that balances COVID-19 facts with appropriate reassurances that adults are there to help keep them healthy and to take care of them if they do get sick.
Upper elementary and early middle school children are more vocal in asking questions about whether they indeed are safe. They may need assistance in separating reality from rumor and fantasy. Discuss efforts that are being made at the national, state, and local level to prevent germs from spreading.
Upper middle and high school students can benefit from more in-depth discussion about COVID-19. Refer them to appropriate sources for the status of the pandemic. Engage them in decision-making about family plans, scheduling, and helping with others at home.
For all children, encourage them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Be a good listener.
Stay Connected to School
Locate learning resources as virtual learning experiences will vary greatly. Take advantage of the many companies and online platforms that currently offer free learning opportunities.
Identify any additional resources that are being provided by school such as meals, or technology, such as a tablet, laptop, wi-fi hub, etc.
Connect with school staff by reaching out to your child’s teacher and other relevant school staff if you have concerns about their coping and keeping up with assignments and activities.
Know the Symptoms of COVID-19
According to the CDC, symptoms of fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath which appear within 14 days after being exposed to the disease. For some people the symptoms are similar to having a cold; for others, they are more severe or even life threatening.
Model Basic Hygiene and Healthy Lifestyle Practices
Practice daily good hygiene by encouraging children to wash their hands multiple times a day for 20 minutes. Compliment them when they use a tissue or sneeze or cough into the bend of their elbow. Handshakes and hugs need to be limited to immediate family members. Help to foster a sense of control by offering guidance on what your child/children can do to prevent infection. This will help reduce anxiety. Encourage your child to eat a balanced diet, get enough sleep and stay active. Such activities will help develop a robust immune system to fight off illness.
Be Aware of Warning Signs
Most children will manage well with the support of parents and other family members,
even if showing signs of some anxiety or concerns such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
Some children, though, may have risk factors to more intense reactions, including severe
anxiety, depression, and self-harm. Risk factors can include pre-existing mental
health/behavioral problems, prior traumatic experiences or abuse, family instability, or the loss
of a loved one. Parents and caregivers should contact a professional if children exhibit
changes in behavior or any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks.
Preschool – thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression in behavior, and withdrawal.
Elementary school children – irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration, and withdrawal from activities and friends.
Adolescents – sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and poor concentration.
HELP FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY
Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks,
Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use at Home, at Play, and Out and About,
NASP COVID-19 Resource Center, https://www.nasponline.org/COVID-19
Adapted from, Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting from COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource, National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses, NASP 2020.