By Deborah Serani, Psy.D., author of Sometimes When I’m Sad
It’s long been known that children react to stress by looking at how adults cope. During this uncertain time, here are ways you can help your children—and yourself—move through the COVID-19 crisis.
Take time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions in a way that your child or adolescent can understand. Dispel any myths or sensationalism that can make your child worry more.
When you help your child feel safe, don’t offer more details than your child is interested in. Follow their lead when it comes to answering questions. For example, if your child asks about when school will be back in session, answer that question the best way you can. But if the topic doesn’t come up, there’s no need to raise the subject.
Reassure children that they’re safe. Let them know that the local community and the country are hard at work to keep it that way, and that you will always do whatever it takes to help them feel loved and protected.
Let your children know it’s okay to feel afraid and upset. It’s natural for a child to worry about catching COVID-19, or that someone they love can get sick. Remind them that, together as a family, you’re doing all the recommended things to keep the virus away. Explain that if they feel sick, or have a sore throat, it may just be an ordinary cold—and that you’ll be sure to take care of them no matter what.
Young children will feel reassured when you tell them that hospitals and doctors are taking care of people who get sick. And older children will find comfort when you tell them that scientists are working to develop a vaccine.
Be a role model and share how you’re dealing with the stress of COVID-19. Demonstrate that when you get afraid, you talk about it. Or when you get upset, you soothe yourself by resting, reading, or talking to loved ones. Show them healthy eating and healthy sleeping habits. From you, they’ll learn resilience.
Remind children that staying at home and not going to work or school is about keeping the virus from spreading and keeping others safe and healthy. Help alleviate the social isolation your child feels by encouraging Skype, FaceTime, texting, or phoning friends and family on a regular basis.
When boredom hits, consider creative ways to pass the time. Going outside, doing arts and crafts, looking through photo albums or baby videos, writing old-school letters to friends, playing board games or online games together, and other family activities can help keep loneliness, sadness, or frustration from occurring.
Limit your family’s exposure to news coverage and social media about COVID-19. Children can easily misinterpret or misunderstand the subject matter.
Try to keep up with regular routines. Predictability during this chaotic time will help ground and center your family. Have set times to eat and sleep, and arrange a schedule during the day for school learning and recreational times.
Lastly, encourage family members that this too shall pass. Though it’s a moment in history that’s unprecedented, the COVID-19 crisis will diminish and life will become more predictable.
Deborah Serani, Psy.D., is an award-winning author and psychologist in practice for 30 years. She is also a professor at Adelphi University, and her writing on the subjects of depression and trauma has been published in academic journals. Dr. Serani is a go-to expert for psychological issues. Her interviews can be found in Newsday, Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Associated Press, and affiliate radio programs at CBS and NPR, among others. She is also a TEDx speaker and has worked as a technical advisor for the NBC television show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She lives in New York City.
Deborah is the author of Sometimes When I’m Sad.
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