How to Speak to Kids of All Ages About Growing Concerns for COVID-19 Share +

Posted by: coronadosafe 10 months, 1 week ago

To share, or not to share…


While in this time of uncertainty, with new news coming out hourly, we have to take into account how it affects our ourselves and our youth.  Some may be tempted to protect children by shielding them from overwhelming hysteria, while others may have trouble filtering out their own anxieties. Like many things in life, sharing information with children while staying grounded in the here-and-now is a balance we want to be mindful of. 


Brigit Katz from Child Mind Institute says the following “Kids look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous situations; if a parent seems consistently anxious and fearful, the child will determine that a variety of scenarios are unsafe.” This being said, we must consider our own anxieties. If you’re like me, you often participate in catastrophic thinking or ruminating on irrational or worst-case outcomes. Without the ability to think abstractly, this kind of information can leave children fearful and uncertain. If possible, we want to catch ourselves when we are thinking catastrophically so that we calm our own anxieties before children have a chance to interpret it. Kids need reassurance that there are people keeping them safe.


Keep Kids in the Loop While Remaining Positive. 

Kids don’t need to know every little detail regarding the virus. We want to keep information general, unless they ask for specific details. There is no reason to volunteer fear-inducing information like mortality rates, government responses, or long-term effects. Of course, kids will notice changes in there day-to-day and they may ask questions! Keep an open mind when answering questions. They are attempting to make sense of their new world. Answer their questions while remaining positive. 


Checking-in with kids

With changes in routine, kids can often feel unsettled.  Checking in with children periodically is important. Your children may be tantruming or acting out more than usual, typically as a result of anxiety. Ask your child what they know about the outbreak and what that means to them. We want to insure that we are listening, validating, connecting and redirecting them to the here-and-now.

We, as parents want to model using our words to express fears and concerns while sharing ways we get through these strong emotions. These conversations can sound like “I know it is confusing and worrisome to be out of school, I miss my friends too. Would you like to draw a picture to show your class when you return.” Or “I know things feel stressful right now. Would you like to sit with me and journal the things you want to accomplish while we are out of school and work.” 


Tips for Talking with Different Age Groups

Note: These should be seldom, brief conversations. Do not pressure conversations when children are showing distress or avoidance. If you see your child is uncomfortable it can be helpful to redirect to coping, comfort items, and positive activities while reminding your child that things are going to be okay. 


Preschool Children 0-5

Children in this age group need routines and physical reassurance. They look to adults to be calm leaders. As toddlers are too young to understand, it can be helpful to avoid news consumption. The topic of COVID-19 should be focused only on how it affects their day-to-day. 


Elementary Children 

Elementary aged children are becoming more aware of their surroundings as they make sense of the world and the schemas they hold. During unsure times, they may resort to aggression or infantile behavior. They also need adults to be leaders and give reassurance. 

When talking to this age group, it can be helpful to start by asking what they know. Children often hold misconceptions of the reality of the situation. Some may think that their classmates and teachers are sick, others may be upset that they aren’t allowed to see friends. 

Help children to understand the facts and the temporariness of the situation. Model the ways you manage your own anxiety, encourage children to enjoy recreational activities, and direct them to express their feelings through writing or art. 


Middle School

Middle-schoolers are becoming more and more concerned with the future and it may be challenging to limit news consumption at this age.  Again, ask your child what they know and think of the outbreak. Help them decipher between reliable and unreliable resources. This can be a great introduction into the topic of xenophobia and the damaging effect it can have on others. 


High School

Teenagers have a tendency to feel invincible and block out concerns that they cannot see. Even though it may seem like they do not care, avoidance and humor are ways of coping. Although many will say they are okay, they may complain of physical symptoms, start arguments, or engage in risky behavior. Help model positive coping skills while encouraging hobbies and social connection. Connect with your teen by allowing questions, and validating concerns. It can also be helpful to limit screen time by requesting family time for games, cooking, meals and movies.  


College Students

Although it may feel like a break to some, college students are in the thick of their semesters.  With papers, projects and finals on the way, adjusting to life back with the family may be overwhelming and misleading. Some students may have forgotten necessary supplies and books while others are adjusting to share space with distractions. Help your students by providing physical space and time without household requests and distractions. Allow them to problem solve out loud and when necessary suggest emails to professors and classmates for help. 


If you are worried about your child’s behavior or they have brought up concerning conversations. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Coronado SAFE. We are offering 15 minute check-ins for kids, teens and parents, free of charge to all members of the community. To schedule a check-in today, click here

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