6 ways parents can support their kids through the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) brings with it feelings like anxiety, stress and uncertainty — and they are felt especially strongly by children of all ages. Though all children deal with such emotions in different ways, if your child has been faced with school closures, cancelled events or separation from friends, they are going to need to feel loved and supported now more than ever.
1. Be calm and proactive
“Parents should have a calm, proactive conversation with their children about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and the important role children can play in keeping themselves healthy. Let them know that it is possible that [you or your children] might start to feel symptoms at some point, which are often very similar to the common cold or flu, and that they do not need to feel unduly frightened of this possibility.
Adults can empathize with the fact that children are feeling understandably nervous and worried about COVID-19. Reassure your children that illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults. It’s also important to remember, that many of the symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated. From there, we can remind them that there are many effective things we can do to keep ourselves and others safe and to feel in better control of our circumstances: frequently wash our hands, don't touch our faces and engage in social distancing.
2. Stick to a routine
Children need structure. Full stop. And what we’re all having to do, very quickly, is invent entirely new structures to get every one of us through our days. Parents must make sure that there’s a schedule for the day — that can include playtime where a kid can get on their phone and connect with their friends, but it also should have technology-free time and time set aside to help around the house. We need to think about what we value and we need to build a structure that reflects that. It will be a great relief for kids to have a sense of a predictable day and a sense of when they’re supposed to be working and when they get to play.
3. Let your child feel their emotions
With school closures come cancelled school plays, concerts, sports matches and activities that children are deeply disappointed about missing out on because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Let them be sad. In the scope of an adolescent’s life these are major losses. This is bigger for them than it is for us because we’re measuring it against our lifetime and experience. Support, expect and normalize that they are very sad and very frustrated about the losses they are mourning. When in doubt, empathy and support are the way to go.
4. Check in with them about what they’re hearing
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Find out what your child is hearing or what they think is true. It’s not enough to just tell your child accurate facts, because if they have picked up something that is inaccurate, if you don’t find out what they are thinking and directly address the misunderstanding, they may combine the new information you give them with the old information they have. Find out what your child already knows and start from there in terms of getting them on the right track.
5. Create welcome distractions
When it comes to processing difficult emotions, “take your cues from your child, and really think a lot about balancing talking about feelings with finding distractions, and allow distractions when kids need relief from feeling very upset.” Have a family game night every few days or cook meals together. With teens and their screens, allow for some leeway, but not a free-for-all.
6. Monitor your own behaviour
Parents of course are anxious too and our kids will take emotional cues from them. Parents must do what they can to manage their anxiety in their own time and to not overshare their fears with their children. That may mean containing emotions, which may be hard at times, especially if they’re feeling those emotions pretty intensely.
Children rely on their parents to provide a sense of safety and security. “[It’s important that] we remember that they are the passengers in this and we are driving the car. And so even if we’re feeling anxious, we can’t let that get in the way of them feeling like safe passengers.”