Helping Children Cope with the COVID-19 Scare
By Dr. Cheryl Andaya
Child and Family Clinical Psychologist
Discussing COVID-19 with Your Child
Your child acting up? Getting in trouble? Seems out of character? It could be because of the situation going on in their environment. Keeping your child calm amidst the chaos when the world is going cray cray 🤪 can be a challenge. Your child may seem fine, but they are smart enough to recognize when something is up. Sometimes, when they don’t have the words to express their concerns, or if they are too young to recognize the emotions they are feeling, their worries emerge in other ways through (tantrums, crying, misbehavior, withdrawing, toileting accidents, etc.). Explaining what is going in child-friendly terms does not need to be difficult. So how do you address it?
Here are some tips:
1. Just start talking. Take the time to chat with your child. Enter their mind by entering their world. Get down on their level and just listen to whatever they want to talk about. They may want to talk about their favorite cartoon or game. Just listen. Doing this often helps your child learn to verbalize their thoughts and encourages them to talk to you when they have something to say. Some children will come right out and say what they are worrying about. Others may take some time. Be patient and let them express themselves. Some children talk more when they are doing something (coloring, drawing, fidgeting with a toy). Younger children may prefer to draw about what is bothering them.
2. Be a role model. Your children are watching your reactions so if you’re highly anxious, you need to CHILL! Your child will feed off your energy and watch your reaction. Do you need to take deep breaths to calm yourself? Does yoga help? Prayer? Whatever you need to do, do it and let your child see what you’re doing to keep yourself calm, and then make sure you remain calm around your child so you don’t increase their anxiety. Teach them ways to calm themselves:
Deep breathing – Tell them to imagine holding a nice warm cup of cocoa. Have them close their eyes, take a deep breath in, smelling the aroma of the cocoa and then slowly blowing out, trying to cool the cup of cocoa. Have them do this a few times to calm themselves.
I use the visualization of the cocoa because most children have had a cup of cocoa so it’s easy for them to imagine, and it usually brings up memories of warmth and comfort.
Some children need to do something active to get to that calm space –
Getting out the wiggles – for kids that need to release nervous energy, wiggling in place and being silly, jumping in place, running around outside for a bit, or dancing may help release the nervous energy and help them get to a calm space. If your child has been indoors all day, this would be way to go since all children need to be moving around and using up that energy at various points of the day. Getting them tired will also help with sleep later.
3. Turn the news off. If your child is highly anxious, keep the news off. Some households cannot have the news playing in the background…even if you think your child is busy doing something else; they are listening. If you have a highly anxious child, turn the news off. I used headphones to keep the news away from my youngest who tends to worry. The media loves to use that suspenseful music and catastrophic words to get attention. Good to have the info, but not good for anxiety. If you do allow your child to watch the news, please make sure you talk to your child about what they heard and address any concerns they may have.
4. Let them ask questions. My kiddo was quiet (unusual for him as he loves to talk) so I asked him if he was worried about what is going on in the news. He nodded. I asked what worried him. This was about a possible hurricane coming. He told me that the wind would throw cars around. Ummm, yeah. No wonder he’s worried. I tried to keep it real and told him that it may happen in certain areas, but not where we were. We talked about it and I tried to correct any other unrealistic thoughts he had. Gotta love their imagination but it also can make matters worse for them. Try to correct any misconceptions they have. They’re probably thinking Hollywood mayhem.
With the current COVID-19 situation, keep it simple, matter of fact, and focus on what they need to do to stay healthy. Don’t heighten their fear by using threats but let them know they need to follow the steps to stay healthy.
5. Empower them. Review the things your child and family can do to stay safe and empower them by giving them duties/responsibilities. In this current situation with the COVID-19 virus, you can:
- Put up signs reminding them to wash their hands.
- Set up a sanitizer station in the garage so they can wash/sanitize their hands before entering the home.
- Make activities to do while quarantined.
- Get a shopping list together for preparation to quarantine. Let your child lead the process by having him/her tell YOU what to get.
- Put together kits for families who are unable to leave their homes due to high-risk issues
6. Provide distractions. This can be playing board games, helping with house chores, crafting, and other activities that would keep their mind off what’s going on. I had my little lego fanatic build me a lego pencil holder for my office. That kept him busy for a couple hours which helped him tremendously…and I got a cool pencil holder.
7. Maintain routines as much as possible. We kept to the daily routine with morning routines, homework, night routine, and same bedtime. Changes in routine would add to stress and unease for some children.
8. Cuddles and hugs. Providing extra hugs can also help your child feel safer. Periodically check-in with them to make sure they are doing okay, and other concerns/questions are answered.
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I’m a mother and a Clinical Psychologist who works with children and their families as well as individuals reaching for their goals. Born and raised in Hawaii, I embrace diversity and help individuals find their strengths.