By Guest Bloggers Angela Smith and Meredith Shaw, School Psychologists with WSFCS
It seems like everywhere we go people are talking about COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Working in the schools, we not only hear teachers, parents, and guardians talking about the virus, we also hear students discussing it. We’ve even seen memes on social media that make light of the hysteria surrounding the illness. Some of the memes are amusing, but there is nothing funny about how serious this virus is or how rapidly it is spreading. Even though the immediate health risk is low, the virus is creating anxiety for both adults and children.
To be clear, a little anxiety isn’t necessarily a negative thing when it comes to something like COVID-19. A healthy fear encourages us to take precautions, such as following the Center for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) recommendations for washing our hands and avoiding touching our face. However, it is critical for parents and guardians to understand that children look to us for guidance on how to react to stressful situations. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), children will react to and follow the verbal and nonverbal reactions of the adults in their lives. It is important that the adults remain calm and reassuring, letting the children know that they are there to keep them safe and healthy. It is also important to let children talk about their feelings and give appropriate perspective to their concerns.
Here are some additional considerations and recommendations for helping children cope with their fears regarding COVID-19:
- Educate yourself about the virus: In order to provide your child with factual information, you will need to be knowledgeable and up to date on information. COVID-19 is constantly evolving, so; make sure you are seeking information and guidance from reliable resources such as the CDC, the World Health Organization, and your local health department.
- Maintain open communication with your child regarding COVID-19: You might be wondering whether or not to discuss the virus with your child if they haven’t haven’t mentioned it yet. It is important to be aware that your child has probably heard all about COVID-19, even if they haven’t said anything to you about it. Just this week, a kindergarten teacher told me she overheard a group of students discussing it. They were wondering if a child who was out sick might have the virus. The teacher was able to address their concern and reassure them of school efforts to keep them safe. When parents and guardians maintain open communication with their children, they are able to bring up topics like COVID-19 and their children know they can ask questions, especially when they feel worried or confused.
- Don’t ignore their concerns: When children don’t have factual information, they are likely to imagine scenarios that are far worse than reality. During these conversations, it is important for parents and guardians to use active listening skills by giving them your full attention and acknowledging their fears by reframing them in your own words. This lets the child know you hear and understand what they are saying.
- Be honest and provide accurate information, but keep the information on a developmentally appropriate level: When discussing COVID-19 with your child, It is important to provide facts while considering their age and developmental level. Elementary age children need the information to be brief and provided in simple terms that they are able to understand. Older children may have more questions because of information they have seen or heard. With those children, it will be important to provide clarification and separate facts from rumors. With all children, provide the information in a calm manner that does not promote stress. Reassure them that their risk is low at this time and remind them of the simple steps they themselves can take to stay safe. Give specific examples such as washing their hands often and using hand sanitizer.
- Monitor what they are watching on television or seeing on the internet: Consistent exposure to news coverage may cause additional anxiety. Parents should be mindful about how much news coverage children are exposed to. In addition, students may be seeking information from social media sources that contain misinformation about COVID-19. Parents should talk to their children about how false information can be spread through social media and provide their children with factual information.
- Tell them what precautions their schools and communities are taking to keep individuals safe: Parents should refer to information that was sent to them by their school system. They will continue to update parents on their efforts.
- Maintaining routines: Even in the most normal of situations, maintaining a consistent routine helps reduce stress and anxiety in children (and adults). The predictability and familiarity of a routine creates a sense of security in children. As much as possible, try and maintain a predictable schedule for after school and during weekends. Being well-rested also reduces stress so it is critical to keep a consistent bedtime routine. If your child is having difficulty going to sleep because of their anxiety, try calming activities such as meditation, reading a calming book, progressive muscle relaxation, or listening to calming sound machine.
- Teach your child coping skills: we can almost guarantee that this will not be the only time your child experiences stress and anxiety in their lives. Developing positive coping skills to use at those times is important, regardless of your age. Some children may need a bit more guidance on strategies to use in order to cope with difficult situations. In addition to helping them understand the role exercise, diet, and positive sleep habits can have in managing stress, teach them about other positive coping strategies such as art, journaling, and talking about their feelings. For additional ideas, visit: Psyched About School Blog
- If you become concerned that your child’s anxiety is interfering with his or her functioning, you should consult with a mental health professional. Your school psychologist, counselor, social worker, and/or nurse will be able to help you find local resources if needed.
Information for this blog was obtained from the following sites. For additional information and guidance, visit:
Want to see more blogs like this and get notifications on local events and happenings? Subscribe to Triad Moms on Main’s free weekly newsletters here.