By Neil McNerney, Parenting with Purpose
The recent events around the Covid-19 outbreak has caused significant anxiety not just in our area, but throughout the world. Our children are also worried, but don’t have the life experiences that we have in order to cope with this situation. Below, I will share five things that you can do as a parent to help them during this tough time.
One – Keep your emotions in check. Your kids will listen very carefully to what you say around them. Avoid making statements like: “What is wrong with the world?” or “Everyone is going nuts at the grocery store!” Comments like this, although appropriate for adult conversation, can often be misunderstood by children and significantly increase their anxiety. Regardless of how upset you might be what is happening, try to keep a lid on it while your kids are in earshot. Their level of anxiety will be directly affected by your level of anxiety.
Try to avoid staring at your phone to get updates. Your kids will notice it and be worried. Whenever something overwhelming happens in a child’s life, the tendency is to look toward their parents for reassurance. Your goal is to send the message that all is OK with the world, even if there is something worrying that is happening.
Two – Create a quiet home space. If your family typically has the TV on in the background during family time, consider turning it off while your children are around. Live TV is unedited TV. Even if the news is happening in real time, your children’s mental health should take precedence over your need to know what is happening right at this moment. Young children have little concept of numbers. They cannot take into perspective the number of illnesses and the number of deaths. It is your responsibility to filter the news so that, depending on the age of the child, you can help them make sense of it. We know that, based the September 11 attacks, those children that were exposed to more media images and videos of the event had more long-term anxiety than children less exposed.
Three – Share information that is age-appropriate.
Children under six need to be told very little. Since they have so few life experiences, it’s better that they think that the closing of schools, etc. is routine. Let them know that this is what we do when there is a new germ going around. It is a way to help keep us safe. They don’t need to know how rarely this occurs.
Children ages 6-11 need very basic facts and lots of reassurance that they are safe. It is also important at this age to significantly limit media exposure. Keep it simple: “You know what it’s like to have a cold or the flu — how sometimes you get a cough or have a fever? This is like that. Most people who catch this stay home, rest and get better. By not going to school, were making sure that most people stay healthy.
Children over 11 often have more control over their ability to learn what is happening through social media and their technology. It is important to encourage them to limit their exposure to news about this. Encourage them to ask questions and if you don’t know the answer, spend some time researching it together.
Four – Create a standard routine for each day. Kids thrive on routine. Don’t let them sleep in each day. They will obviously benefit if they try to keep up on their academic skills. The easiest way to do this is through reading. Also, try to use this time as a chance to help your children for self-improvement. For instance, use this time to learn a new skill, such as juggling, or making videos, for instance. Learn a new instrument, or spend time getting better at the one they already play. Look for ways to serve the community by donating money or food. We have great community partners that are in need of food and resources to those hit especially hard during this time. Loudoun Hunger Relief and Mobile Hope are doing great things to help with the basic needs of the community.
Five – Be aware of significant changes in their emotions and behavior. Temporary changes are normal when a sudden change occurs. Irritability, clinginess, difficulty sleeping, appetite changes, school avoidance, and fearfulness are all normal responses. Be extra understanding during this time. If they need extra time with you at bedtime, give it to them. If they seem to always want to be at your side, let them. Extra reassurance and TLC during this time can be very beneficial.
Hopefully, these ideas will help create some structure around this challenging time.
Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out! and The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org