As the COVID-19 outbreak progresses and response plans are implemented, families are navigating school closures, changes to employment status and/or environment, and inevitably increased levels of stress. Children may be struggling with major adjustments to their routines. They may ask questions about what is happening, when things will go back to normal, or express worry about their safety or the safety of loved ones.
What we know is that children look to adults and caregivers for guidance on how to react to stressful events. Thus, caregivers play a vital role in providing support, a sense of safety, and fostering resilience during these unprecedented circumstances. Below are three important things to keep in mind when working to support your children during this time.
- As a parent or caregiver, manage your own stress first. Kid are in-tune with parents’ stress levels and emotional distress. If parents seem overly worried or distressed, it may increase your child’s anxiety. Work on prioritizing your own self-care activities by identifying what things promote your own emotional, physical, and mental well-being. Taking time out of your day to take care of yourself is not selfish, it is actually crucial so that you can be the best possible caretaker. If it is accurate to your experience, you may want to acknowledge some level of concern to your children, but do so without panicking. Remain calm and reassuring regarding the actions in place to help reduce the risk of illness and spread. Seeking help from a mental health care provider is another option if an adult finds him or herself struggling to cope.
- Be prepared to provide children with factual, age appropriate information and to have developmentally appropriate conversations. It can often be helpful to talk with children about their fears and worries, but could be harmful if they do not feel ready or able. Rather than withholding information from your children, find ways in which to be truthful about the circumstances in age appropriate ways.
- For elementary school children, this might mean providing brief and simple information about there being an illness, but with reassurances that adults are working hard to keep them safe.
- For middle school children, it might be appropriate to give them the facts about people getting sick and why it is important to wash our hands, cover our coughs and limit contact with individuals outside of the family, but without oversharing. A parent could also discuss efforts of school and the community to prevent the virus from spreading.
- For older, high school age children, parents would be able to discuss COVID-19 in more depth. Having knowledge and factual information about the status of the pandemic might enhance a teenager’s sense of control.
- For any age child, talk about your family’s plan for staying healthy and safe. Maybe ask your child for input on things they would like to contribute to this plan.
- Work to create and maintain structure in the home setting. Adhere to normal daily routines as best you can, despite children being home and out of school. Routines and structure help to provide children with a sense of safety and predictability, particularly during a time when there this is widespread uncertainty. While children are out of school, be sure to create structure that balances schoolwork or educational activities, enjoyable activities/play, and physical activity. Implement time limits on activities and take breaks in between. Be conscientious about maintaining regular bedtimes and mealtimes. Create a visual schedule so your child knows what to expect day to day.
Additional helpful content on this topic:
- This video has helpful information about how to answer questions in an age-appropriate way:
- Resources for Supporting Children’s Emotional Well-Being During the COVID-19 Pandemic