Children are very perceptive to changes in routine and emotion. Social distancing measures in our community and around the world are changing our chidrens’ worlds too. With cancellation of school, extra curricular activities, birthday parties, and even closures of our favorite restaurants, your child likely has a lot of questions about what’s going on. This can be a particularly stressful time as parents are adjusting to a new routine at home. Ms. Masla, the CDC and our colleagues at the Waldorf School of Philadelphia have some excellent tips on how to talk to your child about covid-19.
Dealing with Fear, Anxiety and Panic
Especially now, we are being overloaded with information about covid-19. It’s all over our media devices on websites, Facebook and television. It’s taped to storefront windows and doors. We are hearing about it from everyone from our dentists and car insurance providers. We are seeing our grocery store and healthcare workers wearing gloves and masks. The information we receive from our environment can trigger emotions like fear, anxiety and panic.
Movement, Release and Expression
Emotions like fear, anxiety and panic require release and expression. What do you do to release strong emotions? Is it exercise? Listening to music? Creating? Meditation? Sleeping? Does it help to talk about your emotions, and write them in a journal?
What does this look like for your child?
We encourage you to prioritize activities that help the release of emotions for yourself and for your children. Here are some ideas:
Go for a family hike: Social distancing doesn’t mean outdoor activities are cancelled! You can go to your favorite park or hiking trail; just take care to maintain 6 feet of distance away from strangers.
Cook a meal together: baking or making dinner together is an excellent way to de-stress by creating together.
Play music: another way to create together is by playing music, or dancing and singing together to your favorite songs.
Journaling: This is an excellent activity for children and adults. It can be done solo, or shared with a family. Spend time writing your thoughts and feelings about the covid-19 situation. What anxieties and fears do you have? Are you worried? Are you hopeful? Ask younger children to draw what they’re feeling. Be open to hearing and answering questions from your children during this activity.
Continue a routine: As much as possible, continue your normal routine. If you make waffles for breakfast every Sunday, keep doing that. If you sit together as a family at dinner time every night, keep doing that. If your child takes a nap after lunch time at school, keep doing that.
Listen to your Child’s Valid Emotions
Children often process new information emotionally. Without perspective and worldly experience, they rely on the adults in their life for guidance and reassurance. It’s important to pay attention to the fears and anxieties behind their reactions. When your child is worried about something he saw on the news, listen to him. If your younger child is crying because she can’t go to school, let her release that emotion and reassure her.
According to our colleagues at the Waldorf School of Philadelphia, “it’s essential to remember the real question behind the questions … as such, answers need to ultimately address these concerns that lie behind questions.” Although your child may be asking about statistics or something seen on the news, consider the real questions behind the question: Am I safe? Is my family safe? How can I feel more in control?
“In the case of the covid-19 virus, globally, humans are building and picking up on shared fear. What are we communicating, with or without words, to our children?”
As stated in Ms. Masla’s Suggestions for Building Resiliency in Families during the Covid-19 Pandemic and Temporary School Closure sent out earlier this week, children can pick up on feelings of stress around them when something is wrong. Here are some ways we can focus on communicating intentionally with our children about covid-19:
Early Childhood and Elementary
Young children are very perceptive to change in routine. As much as possible, try to keep a daily routine with your child. According to Ms. Masla, “when a child’s daily rhythm changes, you may notice that your child’s behavior is dysregulated or that they are having more emotional outbursts.” Keeping a regular routine can help keep your young child grounded and enforce feelings of safety and security.
Positive Behavior Reinforcement
Since children are perceptive to change, even young children may ask what’s going on. Even if your child doesn’t ask, remember that he or she has likely noticed something is going on. This is a good opportunity to teach positive reinforcement and help children feel empowerment and control during this stressful time.
The CDC has provided some excellent tips for using the covid-19 situation as a practical opportunity to teach about health and safety:
- Remind children to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick.
- Remind them to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash.
- Discuss any new actions that may be taken at school to help protect children and school staff.
(e.g., increased handwashing, cancellation of events or activities)
- Get children into a handwashing habit.
- Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
- If soap and water are not available, teach them to use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol, especially in schools and childcare facilities.
Older Children and Teenagers
Misinformation is abundant online, and your older child may be exposed to inaccurate or fear based stories about covid-19 on social media or even in discussion friends. Though it’s not always possible to limit the information your child hears, it’s possible to make sure that you’re sharing the most accurate and up to date information with them. Encourage your child to find their information from reputable sources like the World Health Organization, the CDC website, or Boulder County Public Health.
Here are some points for older children and teenagers suggested by the CDC:
- Remember that viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity. Avoid making assumptions about who might have COVID-19.
- Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.
- Talk to children about how some stories on COVID-19 on the Internet and social media may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.
Emotional Space and Distance
Older children and teenagers may process better alone. Ms. Masla suggests providing space so that your older child or teenager can acknowledge, name and express feelings. Encourage your child to journal. If they are more comfortable talking with or expressing emotions with another caregiver, older sibling, or trusted adults, encourage that. If they need to release their emotions in a non-verbal way, allow as much space for that as you can.
Children are very perceptive to changes in routine and emotion. Social distancing measures in our community and around the world have created a particularly stressful environment for children and families. We hope that this article has provided some practical advice to help your family feel grounded in this stressful time. As always, if you have any questions or need support, please reach out.
- Boulder County Public Health: https://www.bouldercounty.org/families/disease/covid-19/
- CDC Covid-19 Webpage: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/
- CDC’s Guide to Talking to Children about Covid-19: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html
- Waldorf School of Philadelphia on Talking to Children: https://phillywaldorf.com/talking-to-children-about-covid-19/
- World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/westernpacific/emergencies/covid-19