NAVIGATION- Dr. Charles R. Davenport; Licensed Psychologist

Talking to kids about COVID-19

What is COVID-19?

Corona viruses are a broad group of viruses that cause a range of illnesses including the common cold. The COVID-19 version appears to be more easily spread then the common cold. It is a breathing disease that we spread in similar was as the common cold. As of right now, there is no vaccination for COVID-19. For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO). First, you should ask what your children know about COVID-19 and if they have any questions. Ask them what they think and feel. Start be responding to those concerns and determine if they are desiring more information. If they have questions or are distressed it is recommended that you have a family discussion.

In the past week there have been a lot of changes in communities with schools closing, sports events being canceled and it is all happening at lightening speed. This is an experience most adults have never experienced.

So how can parents help their kids with understand and cope with the changes relating to COVID-19? See below:

You should talk to your children in a developmentally appropriate manner. for example:

Younger children: This is a virus like the kind that gives you a cold. So we have to be very careful about staying healthy by washing your hands, keeping your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth, sneezing and coughing into your elbow, and staying away from others if they or you are sick so it doesn’t spread.  You can still catch a cold now, which is not as big a problem for others, but you will want to be extra careful anyway.

Older children: Help them understand the new terms and how these concepts specifically apply to them. For example, if a sporting event is canceled, explain why, and what will happen, such as rescheduling at a later date.

What can we do to prevent COVID-19

Many of the same things that are suggested to reduce the spread of the common cold are suggested to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These include hand washing for at least 20 seconds, coughing into your elbow, drinking enough water, maintaining a healthy diet, going to bed and waking up at regular times and getting enough sleep. Decreasing physical contact with others such as smiling rather then hugging or shaking hands, not sharing tools such as pensciles, pens, or electronic devices, and not touching surfaces in public places.

Younger children: Explain the concepts of social distancing or voluntary isolation if schools or public events are closed. A simple explanation of keeping healthy and not spreading viruses should be helpful. Review the practices of preventing spread of disease.

Older children: Help them understand the new terms and how these concepts specifically apply to them. For example, if a sporting event is canceled, explain why, and what will happen, such as rescheduling at a later date.

Even if your family is in isolation, remember that this is temporary, and do not underestimate your coping ability.  You can reach out for support from others.  It is human nature to come together in a crisis and to become even more resilient.  Unhealthy/unhelpful thoughts can occur. For more information on managing negative thought patterns see these links:

Managing Worry

Anxiety Control: Spread of COVID-19 is anxiety-provoking particularly for children who have a previous diagnosis of an anxiety disorder or have experienced a traumatic event. With so many questions and so few answers, worrying will happen. Your children will take their cues from YOU. If you are constantly checking the news for the latest information, they will sense your anxiety and may react by becoming more anxious. Clinging and whiny behavior, crying with little or no known cause, or sleeping/eating changes may indicate children’s anxiety. So, what can you do?

First, process your own fears and make sure that you are calmly interacting with your child.  You can decrease fear by limiting both yours and your child’s media exposure.  Stick with media sites known to be more factual (not those that make the news more dramatic), and with sites with fact-checked information.  Here are some tips to help you manage your anxiety and put news reports in perspective:

https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/pandemics.  This may also be helpful for you: COVID-19 Anxiety-which explains why we worry about new risks more than familiar ones, how to calm our anxiety, and what are the psychological effects of being quarantined.

Second, ask your child what they might be worried about.  Reassure your child that you understand their concerns.  Answer questions simply, with as little or much information as they seem to need. If you don’t know, say so, and tell them you will try to find the answers. Remember this is not a one-time conversation, rather, these questions will pop up as circumstances change.

Keep to a familiar routine as much as possible including bedtime. Structure is very helpful during stressful times!  Check in via phone or video with those people your child may worry about, such as a college sibling, traveling parent, or elderly relatives or neighbors. Praise them for doing the actions that help prevent spread of the virus, such as hand-washing for two happy birthday songs.

Finally, take care of yourself. Your children will be watching you to see how you are faring. Use calming techniques such as positive statements (“it will be okay”), taking a few minutes to yourself just to breathe deeply, and demonstrating the behaviors that prevent spread including healthy eating and getting sleep.

Planning

Although voluntary or community isolation may not occur in your area, it helps to plan ahead.

If schools close, and parents need to work, think about who will take care of the children, and where this will occur. If a parent works from home, then the family will be together. However, many families have situations that don’t allow for a parent to be home, such as police, fire, or hospital staff. In this case, a “plan B” is necessary. Either an adult who can be a caretaker comes to the home, or the children go to a caretaker at their home during this time. Identifying these caretakers (who are known to be taking precautions with the virus) and the primary site for care is essential.

What can you do with the children when they are not in school? First, check with the school for recommended learning activities and opportunities to get breakfast and lunch if needed.  Second, try to develop a schedule that involves a learning component for at least a few hours each day.

If there is a delay in the school directing your child’s learning at home, or your family has difficulty accessing school information, there are things you can do. For younger children, a parent or adult caretaker can encourage reading time and doing age appropriate learning activities to use the time productively. These activities do not need to be endless worksheets; rather, using activities such as cooking and crafts are natural ways to include math, social studies, and science. Encourage play as this is children’s natural medium for managing stress.

For older children, focusing on learning a project with a report (oral or written) may be a way to incorporate all subject areas. Time away from the internet or video games such as board or card games, going outside, and specified time with friends via social media can be helpful for kids who miss their friends and feel stress.

For all children, it will be helpful to get some exercise whenever possible which also helps with stress.  Activities such as marching around the house, doing jumping jacks, or dancing can help, especially if going outside is not possible.

Parents may also need to help children with sadness or disappointment due to competitions, events, and vacations being canceled. First validate your children’s thoughts and feelings. You can say, “I know your are feeling or thinking ______ and that makes sense. We will be able to do that again in the future and the sooner we get through this the sooner we will get back to that activity.” Work to validate and refocus on taking care of everyone by isolating or cancelling events as needed. To the best of your ability, develop a family plan for a replacement activity that can be done in the home and for when the vacation can be revisited.

If you have questions or think Dr. Davenport might be able to help you or your family please feel free to contact the office at 941-321-1971.

We provide therapy and counseling services to children, adults and families in Sarasota, FL and Venice, FL.

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Dr. Charles R. Davenport is a Licensed Psychologist
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