How to talk to your kids about COVID-19
With the recent news and rapidly evolving developments regarding the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19), it’s understandable that adults and children alike are experiencing stress, confusion, sadness and anxiety. Schools have been closed, and businesses are strongly encouraging their employees to work from home as much as possible. This an unprecedented time and situation our country is facing right now. It is easy to understand the physical recommendations from health officials to stay home and social distance ourselves from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but how do we mentally process these things and the changes to our everyday life?
It is understandable why parents and those caring for young children are anxious at this time. One of our basic needs is safety. Some would argue it’s our most basic need. When we do not feel safe, there is a lot of uncertainty, or when we aren’t in control of something, it makes us anxious. If parents are not talking to their children, who is? Where else are they getting their information? In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is also an “infodemic” happening in our world right now, which is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not – that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.” There is a lot of news and information surrounding COVID-19 right now, and not everything on the Internet and posted on social media is accurate. Parents are the primary security object that a child trusts and needs to receive reassurance from, so ideally, it is a parent sitting down with children and making them feel safe and comfortable regarding the news surrounding this virus.
Something we also can’t forget about is addressing the anxiety of parents. As parents, we’re not only concerned about our children’s health and safety, but we’re concerned for our own personal health and safety as well. If we are walking around modeling anxiety in front of children, they will pick up on that and become anxious, too, so be mindful of your behavior and what you say around children.
Here are a few tips for how parents can talk to their children about COVID-19, involve them in health and safety precautions, and lessen the stress of our “new normal” daily routine:
• Consider the age of children when talking to them and give them reassuring information. For younger children, you can tell them, “Doctors and scientists are working on this, and they are going to figure it out.” For older children, you can be a little more scientific and let them know, “This doesn’t seem to be hurting young people as much as it does older people,” for example and if that information would help comfort them.
• Let children know what they can do to help and make it fun for them. Proper handwashing and not touching your face is very important. Pick a favorite song or make up a song to sing for 20 seconds when washing hands or make up a game to not touch their nose, eyes or mouth and play along with them.
• Keep a routine. Kids might be out of school, but keeping a routine can help manage their anxiety. Create a schedule, even if it’s for fun things to do around the house, to reduce stress.
Mark Cogburn, DNP, PhD, APRN, LMFT, is a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at LSU Health Shreveport. Dr. Cogburn is a lecturer and clinical supervisor in both the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the General Adult Psychiatry Program, and he is the LSUHS director of the Student Mental Health Service. For questions or additional information, call (318) 676- 5002.