Helping Children Deal with the COVID-19 Crisis

How to Talk to children about the COVID-19

What can we do to protect ourselves: Children will feel more in control when you explain to them what they can do to protect themselves (washing their hands, wearing a mask, staying away from crowds, etc.).Emphasize the importance of not letting worry thoughts enter our minds, just like we try to prevent the actual virus from entering our house. Tell them that certain actions will help them to stay healthy (eating and sleeping well, spending time outdoors and staying worry-free).

When will things be back to normal: Here you need to give a relatively concrete answer even if we don’t know what is going to happen. Tell your children, for example, that we think it will be over by summer. If things don’t get better by then, tell them that things will be back to normal by the time they have to go back to school in September. Uncertainty will create the unnecessary anxiety for your children. Tell them that the disease has affected the entire world but that things are slowly changing. You may want to use the analogy of a storm that is passing over an entire planet, it moves slowly, but eventually it will pass. Mention that the scientists are working on a cure.

Dealing with emotions: Most children will feel a certain degree of anxiety right now. Younger children usually deal with difficult feelings by engaging in play. Don’t try to reason with your younger children when they refuse to talk! Instead try playing with them. You can role-play their feared scenarios and suggest ways of resolving difficult situations.

Reaching out: Discuss with your children how they can help those around them. This may involve making a drawing for their grandparents, helping you drop off food/medications for an elderly neighbor, recording a song of hope performed together as a family and sending it to friends, etc.

COVID-19 and home life

The daily routine: The importance of establishing a daily routine can’t be overemphasized, especially during the time like this. Establish a regular wake-up time for your children and ensure that they eat their meals at a regular time. Set up the home-schooling routine. Your child’s school may be offering daily online classes. Alternatively, there are online homeschooling programs available. Encourage your children to play outside if possible. Every day at a set time give your children an update on what is happening in the world and answer their questions. Every family is different. If you feel that you can’t stick to a concrete routine, at least try to establish regular wake up, nap, bedtime and mealtime. In between set up some time for a walk outside. You can prepare a daily schedule and post it on the fridge each day.

Homeschooling: If your school does not have online classes, you might consider enrolling your child into an online program that would target some basic skills (e.g. math, reading). You can also get your child an online tutor for his or her weakest subject. If your child’s school does not have regular online classes, consider getting in touch with teachers. For younger children especially, an occasional chat with their teacher can be a strong motivating factor. If your child has a learning problem, at least try to establish a regular practice within his or her weakest area of study. However, you might discover that your child is resisting all of your efforts to establish a homeschooling routine. Don’t force your child to study. At this time, your priority should be at making sure you have a strong and united family!

COVID-19 and teenagers

COVID-19 and the news: Teenagers need to be reminded not to spend too much time listening to the news. You can joke with your teens about the way COVID-19 infects our thoughts by creating fear and panic and how your family needs to stay protected by limiting access to the media. Check with them to see what kind of information they read online and discuss with friends. If you feel that your teen is overreacting, give them a reality check (i.e. it will pass eventually, etc.). Don’t push your teens to share their feelings when they are not ready. Offer them a chance to simply stay next to you instead of spending all of their time in their room. Engage in some activity together (i.e. clearing out the garden, rearranging a photo album, etc.). Your teen will appreciate your willingness to offer your presence without putting the unnecessary pressure.

Missed events and lost opportunities

Your teens might be worried about missing prom or not being able to go on that exciting school trip. To them missing out on these events might seem like the end of the world. Listen to their concerns and try to brainstorm together for alternatives (i.e. to compensate for the missed prom, suggest that they can organize an outing with their school friends once the situation stabilizes. Search for vacation ideas together on the internet).

Teens and the family

The present generation of teenagers overwhelmingly takes a passive role within the family. Many teens have no chores, rarely spend time with their parents and spend most of their time in their rooms. Normally this is compensated for by their busy schedules, academic pressure, extracurricular activities and time with friends. When all of their activities outside of the family have stopped, teenagers may become sad or anxious if left to their own means. Use the current situation to emphasize the importance of supporting each other as a family. Ask them to help around with chores and house projects. Enlist their help in keeping your younger children busy as you work.

Teens and social support

Teenagers get most of their social support from their network of friends. While you should be monitoring your teen’s communication to prevent instances of bullying, allow them regular interactions with their friends. If you feel that your teen’s social network is not providing enough support, and if they are not willing to open up to you, think of other sources of support. Perhaps they can speak with someone from your extended family (grandparents, aunt or uncle, family overseas). Maybe they were close to one of their teachers or their hockey coach. Don’t be shy to reach out to these people to request a phone call or face time with your teen. Alternatively, offer your teen to speak to someone on the crisis line.

Your own well-being: Set aside the time with your partner, or by yourself if you are a single parent, to process the news and make decisions. Seek support from friends and relatives. Practice your hobbies and simple relaxation techniques. When your children will observe how you address your own stress, they will become better at dealing with their feelings. Offer your children to try some simple relaxation techniques. You can make a daily family relaxation practice by following some short tutorials on YouTube.

Life is not a problem to be solved, it’s a mystery to be lived.

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