How to talk to your child about the Coronavirus,
from all of us at KPTZ – Part 2
May 18, 2020. Let’s talk some more about how to help children and their parents cope with the pandemic and the needs to quarantine.
Like many difficult subjects, talking to children about the pandemic may leave parents tongue-tied and searching for words. Children are actually quite good at accepting explanations of things, as long as they can see that their parents are composed. Typically it is us, the adults, who are uncomfortable with certain subjects, such as death, mental health, divorce, pregnancy, and adoption, to name a few.
If you are uncomfortable talking about the coronavirus and its risks, it may be helpful to have another adult to help you, or use a therapist to help discuss the issue. A classic example of this is when a child asks his or her parent where babies come from. The parent embarrassingly stumbles through some semblance of the birds and the bees lecture only to find that the child wanted to know if you got babies through Amazon. A good first step is to have the child tell you what they think. For example, you can ask, “Where do you think babies come from”? Or in this case, “What have you heard about the new virus going round?
Children under 5 years old will not understand concepts like a worldwide pandemic, death, losing your job, financial problems, and so on. Use simple language such as: the virus is a bad cold that can make you really sick and we are being asked to stay home, so that we don’t get sick, and so that others don’t get it from us.
Children will feel more in control by knowing what they can do to help, for example: washing their hands, staying home, wearing a mask, and social distancing. Most children will have follow-up questions at some time. Keep your answers simple and try to directly address their worry or confusion. Older children can be given more advanced information, but simple is still best, depending on their maturity. It’s a good idea to check with your child to see what their understanding is of your explanation. Remind them that this is an open topic and they can talk about it any time. Think about where they are getting their news from: their friends or the internet. A good practice is for the adults to screen information from the news and inform their children in an age-appropriate manner. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can use this as an opportunity to research together by going to a reliable source of information, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.
The pandemic is a worldwide period of transition that we are all experiencing. Transitions happen throughout our lives and some are more stressful than others. Some common ones are; starting school, marriage, moving, teen years, loss of job, or being bullied. Our ability to navigate through these changes in our life is an example of what we mean by coping. Do we have the resources to handle this ourselves or do we need help from family or friends? Sometimes professional help is needed because we may not be coping as well as we thought.
Here are some examples of behaviors in children that may benefit from working with a therapist:
– Up to 6 years of age: loss of previously gained childhood milestones, such as, toileting, eating independently, sleep difficulty; eating more or less than usual, clinging, tantrums, crying often.
– 7 to 12 years: decline in school functioning, eating more or less than normal, isolating themselves from family or friends, poor hygiene, less cooperative, sleep issues.
– 13 to 18 years: decline in schoolwork, eat and sleep changes, isolating, oppositional behaviors, acting out with drugs, alcohol, or sex.
What you know about your child’s everyday functioning is your key to detecting changes in their behavior. This goes for adults as well. Find your inner Columbo! Being a good detective is a useful parent skill. You may not be able to visit your child’s pediatrician, or to your own doctor, but you can call in to start assessing what is going on. Doctors can rule out medical conditions, and can refer you to a therapist if needed.
Lastly, we the adults need to monitor our own feelings and behavior. Are you more irritable lately, cranky, having less patience, feeling more anxious due to the virus and quarantine? Depression can also be a problem, as many people cannot work, and may be facing severe financial hardship. The best way to take care of your family is to take care of yourself!
You can Google “How to talk to children about the coronavirus “ for more information. Thanks for listening to 91.9FM KPTZ. Stay healthy and Stay Safe!
How to talk to your child about the Coronavirus,
from all of us at KPTZ – Part 1
April 15, 2020. Let’s talk about how to talk with children about the coronavirus. Madeline Levine, a clinical psychologist, tells the story of a boy, about 8 yrs old, asking his mother if he can have a playdate with a friend. She responds, “ OK, but I’ll only pencil it in. In case, you know, the world ends.” This seemingly lighthearted response may be confusing, or terrifying, to her son. Many parents may unknowingly communicate their own fear concerning this serious pandemic. Our fear – or discomfort – with the unknown can affect our judgement and decision making. Many of us can relate to this when we think about being in a serious situation in which we nervously laughed.
The following information about children is meant to aid parents when talking with them about the pandemic we face. Children under 5 think magically, so trying to explain the specifics of the coronavirus pandemic would not tend to comfort them. Typically, young children do as well as their parents are doing and will look to you for clues on how to react. Letting them know that you will take care of them provides comfort and a feeling of security. Use simple and matter-of-fact instructions about hand washing and social distancing to inform them that “this is how we can help ourselves and help others, and stay healthy.”
Children 5 to 10 years old have begun to think more logically but are still concrete in their way of thinking. They may lag in their understanding of abstraction or sarcasm. If they overhear someone expressing their fear about the virus they may come home saying, “Are we all going to die?” It is appropriate to state, “No, we are not all going to die. What is it you heard that makes you think that could happen?” It’s good to keep an open line of communication with your children in order to find out what they are hearing. You can correct any misinformation they might hear. It is appropriate to minimize exposure to TV news which is often overly dramatic and fear raising. It is not just what your children overhear, but more importantly, how they interpret it.
Young adolescents (11 to 15 years old) think much more logically and can understand abstract concept – that is, the bigger picture. They are more likely to understand sarcasm, yet it is wise not to assume that they do. Adolescents are stressed just by being a teenager. You might hear your teenager say, “This sucks. I’m not staying home. None of my friends are sick.” You can express understanding by saying, “We know you miss hanging out with your friends.” Remind them that other people, especially relatives and friends, are counting on them to stay home so that COVID-19 is not spread further into the community. This reinforces the concept that adolescents can be very self-centered but are also very socially conscious and want to help.
As parents, our task is to calm ourselves so that we don’t alarm our children with our own fears and anxiety. Limiting our exposure to all the media and news can be helpful. This particular time in the world is a great opportunity to share with our children the behaviors we all can engage in to reduce stress, such as games, meditation, walking, nature. And we can work on developing new ways, as a family. In times of uncertainty like the current pandemic, adults and children will all be stressed by the many changes that have occurred in our lives.
Some fun things to do that reduce stress are: dancing, singing (make up songs about having to stay home), making videos, drawing (children often reveal a lot of what they are feeling when they draw), painting, play wrestling, yoga, shooting baskets, kicking a soccer ball, making empty boxes into tents or caves, bicycling, cooking together, and assorted games are all fun activities that let families blow off some steam and get away from daily concerns. One of the more illuminating activities is to let your child teach you a game or concept. It’s fun for the parent and allows the child to feel that they can be in the teacher / knowledgeable role.
We hope that this information will help you to rise to the occasion during these most challenging times. Stay tuned to 91.9FM KPTZ, and stay healthy!