Laura Kelloway: Helping children cope with COVID-19 landscape
1. Put your own oxygen mask on first! Make sure your fears are in check and that you get the help you need to cope during these unprecedented times. Talk to your friends and other supports about this privately, out of earshot from children. With young children around turn off the radio and television when Covid 19 broadcasts are on. With older children limit it; there is only so much any of us can take without feeling anxious.
2. For very young children, 6 and under, they need not know much about this. Simply normalize what is happening: "This is what we do when there are germs going around so that less people get sick." If they express worry about themselves or your family and friends, provide reassurance.
3. For children who are a little older, up to 11, they may have more information gathered on their own and more questions. Answer their questions and provide reassurance. Also remember to normalize this; even though this is something that we as adults haven't experienced, kids need to hear us express confidence that these efforts are "what we do" when new germs are spreading to keep people safe.
As a general rule with young children, you don't need to provide more information beyond what they ask for; most adults can recall the awkward rabbit holes we've gone down when, say, halfway through a middle school level sex education lecture, our 4-year-old kid looks at us in utter confusion.
4. For older children and teens, offer accurate information, gathered from reliable sources (Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, Vermont Health Department) and offer them reassurance. Provide them with empathy around their sense of anxiety and loss in this situation. Open up conversations with them about this by asking what their friends are saying about the Covid 19 landscape and be sure to speak to the topics brought up while also hearing the opinions.
Many of our teens will be concerned about their educational trajectory with classes and SATs canceled. Reassure them that this is a shared experience and the folks running the show are taking this into account, there will be no penalties. Our teens will also be missing out on sporting events, musical and theater performances and will need our support in finding ways to practice what they love while group activities are called off.
5. Provide as much routine and structure as you can as a family. Keep your typical routines around bedtimes and mealtimes as close to the norm as possible. Encourage time outdoors and in nature if possible and in keeping with CDC guidelines. Try to inject your own sense of levity and find joy where you can together. While this is a trying time, we have a unique opportunity for slowing down and family cohesion that we generally do not have.
6. Some temporary behavioral and emotional changes are to be expected with such disruptions in the norm. Anxiety, clinginess, fear, irritability, lethargy, loneliness, sibling rivalry, changes in sleep and appetite may occur. While it may feel exhausting at times, it is best to provided empathy, tenderness and more attention when this happens. A little extra TLC can go a long way in easing these behaviors.
7. As is always the case, if your child is sad, anxious or irritable more often than not seek help. If they talk about a wish or intention to die, seek immediate help. Contact their pediatrician or family doctor for assessment and referral information or contact your local emergency department for crisis intervention.
The following tips on helping your children cope with the Covid-19 epidemic were offered by Laura Kelloway, a licensed social worker at the Brattleboro Retreat.
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