Use Age-Appropriate Language and Be Consistent
When discussing the Coronavirus, it is important to discuss the virus in simple terms about germs and what we can do to stay safe. Reassure children that adults are being proactive about the virus and are working hard to keep them safe and are there to provide support. It is important for both parents and children alike to be consistent with maintaining healthy behaviors. There are social stories and child-appropriate videos that can be used as tools to teach your children about the Coronavirus and how to ensure safety.
This is a virus, similar to the common cold or flu, which can be spread through contact.
To maintain our health and safety, explain to children the importance of why we wash our hands regularly as well as keeping our hands away from our noses and out of our mouths. Take time to ensure that your child knows how to properly wash their hands and teach them additional tips if needed. It can be helpful and fun to have the children create signs or posters about remembering to wash their hands, bring their mask with them or keep their hands away from their faces.
Masks and Going Out To Public Places
Children may feel anxious or nervous to go out to public places due to fear of contracting the virus. We can assist them in discussing the importance of wearing a mask to keep us safe. Discuss the purpose of leaving the house in advance and letting children know the expectations of going out in public. While it may be hard for a child to wear a mask, explaining the purpose of masks can help your child understand its importance as well as offering positive reinforcement. While we cannot expect children to like wearing the masks or have them on for long periods of time, we can encourage them by praising them for wearing a mask and offering a reinforcer when they do so.
Be Mindful of What is Said or Seen
Children sometimes overhear adults discussing the coronavirus and how it is impacting our daily lives. This can lead to misinformation, miscommunication and additional stress which can impact the child’s view of what is going on and their thoughts about it. It is important to keep the conversation fact-based and keep the lines of communication open between you and your child. Encourage your children to ask questions about what is going on or what they may have heard or seen on television or social media. When having a conversation with another adult, don’t assume that children are not listening; be proactive by using a quieter voice and be mindful of the distance between you and children.
Validating Our Children’s Concerns
This is an uncertain time for both children and adults alike. It is important to validate their feelings that they may have during these uncertain times as well as keep it fact-based. Stress and anxiety can impact children in different ways. It can be easy to tell children not to worry, “you’re safe” or “that’s silly, you’ll be fine,” however this can be dismissive of their feelings. Encourage children to share their thoughts, worries or fears about what is going on by validating them but also keeping the conversation fact-based; “I can see that you are worried about getting the coronavirus, let’s go over ways to keep us safe.” Be aware of obsessive or ritualistic behaviors such as constantly feeling the need to be clean, wash their hands, refusing the touch surfaces that others may have touched, or avoiding situations, places or areas. These can be signs of underlying anxiety.
Both adults and children alike can set aside time each day for self-care. The duration of time and the activity can change daily based on our schedule for the day, but try to be mindful of even taking 15 to 30 minutes a day for self-care time. Activities can include a family walk, watching a movie, meditating, exercising, journaling, drawing—the importance of self-care is not always what we do, but allowing yourself time to relax!
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Photo by S&B Vonlanthen