(UnitedVoice.com) – The novel coronavirus is having an unprecedented impact on all aspects of our lives. No matter where we turn, news of the disease is in our faces. But it isn’t just affecting adults, children are having to deal with it too. Schools are closed, they can’t see their teachers or their friends and everyone seems to be talking about it. You can bet they are listening.
For children, this can be a scary time full of uncertainty. Kids recognize when the people closest to them are upset about something, and they become distressed as well. We need to remember: they are aware of everything going on, and often they will display their fear in ways that we may not immediately recognize.
Know the Signs
Children can display the manifestations of their stress in a multitude of ways. Luckily for us, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have provided a list of behaviors to watch for:
- Irritability and acting out
- Crying more than usual
- Reverting back to behaviors they had outgrown, such as bedwetting
- Worry and sadness
- Headaches or random pains
- Avoiding activities they used to enjoy or a general sense of disassociation
What Can We Do?
Now that we know a few signs to watch out for, what can we do to help the children in our lives cope with their fear and anxiety?
Talk to Them
Chances are, your children already know about the coronavirus. They aren’t going to school, and you can bet they know why. They may have even seen people in face masks, overheard your conversations or seen it on the news. Talking to them is one way to ease their concerns about everything going on.
Let them know the facts about the virus, what is going on in your local area, and how it is going to affect them. Make sure you keep the conversation positive and age-appropriate. Yes, this is a scary subject, but that doesn’t mean it is the end of the world. Most people who have been infected with the virus have survived. Despite school being closed for now, they get to spend more time at home with you and their siblings. This is a great time to focus on the good things happening for them, but also for yourself.
A great way to do this is to ask them what they know about the situation. This will give you a good base to work from, and a chance to specifically target what they are concerned with. Even if you can’t answer all of their questions, you are still spending time with them and acknowledging their worries.
It is important to note that if you are feeling anxiety or fear, it isn’t a good time to talk with them. They will pick up on this and it will pass on to them. It could also lead you to yell or speak in a harsh way, which will not help them.
Set an Example
Your children are watching you. If you are handling the situation calmly and appropriately, they will too. Lead by example.
Wash your hands and tell them how this act is keeping them safe. Make it fun by having them sing “Happy Birthday” while they do it to reach the suggested 20 seconds of washing. Make sure they know when it is necessary to wash, and let them see you do it in these situations (after blowing your nose, sneezing, using the restroom, coughing, etc).
You can also let them know how you are dealing with your own stress, so they know it isn’t just them. Let them know it is okay to be upset and give them ways to work through it. Taking breaks, getting plenty of rest, or even playing games are all good ways to help get some relief.
Here are some other tips you can use to help alleviate fears:
Be Reassuring – Children need to know they are safe right now. The best way we can do that is to reassure them that everything will be okay. Even though the virus seems to be similar to the average flu, symptoms seem to be less severe in children.
Maintain a Routine – Structure is one way to eliminate stress. Predictability will remove much of the uncertainty your children may be feeling. Adhere to bedtime and meal schedules, even though they are out of school right now. Set schedules for learning activities and playtimes.
Limit the News – This includes social media. Children may not understand what they are seeing and hearing, which could lead to greater levels of anxiety.
Avoid Separation Anxiety – Try to stay with them as much as possible. If you have to leave, let them know where you are going and when you will be back. Uncertainty creates fear.
In the fast-paced world we live in, we rarely have an opportunity, such as the one we have now, to spend time with our families. Yes, the coronavirus is a serious subject, but that doesn’t mean we have to live in doom and gloom. This is the perfect time to enjoy our family, play games, have fun and get to know each other more. Make memories that will last a lifetime — just make sure they are good ones.
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