COVID-19 and the subsequent social distancing we are experiencing can be difficult for young children to understand. In today’s blog post, FCA’s Stephanie Vanhatten, Assistant Clinical Director of Behavioral Health and Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Licensed Professional Counselor, gives advice on how to explain the situation to children while limiting stress.
Our children know when we are stressed. They know there is something going on and that it’s new, scary, and serious. If we don’t talk to our children about COVID-19, they will find out about it through the internet, news, friends, or social media. Encourage your children to ask questions or to talk with you about the virus and the current situation to limit false information and fear. Inform them, if accurate, that you and your family are healthy and are doing what you need to do to remain healthy.
Children will notice that they aren’t able to see their friends or go to school, so it’s important to explain social distancing. It can be hard for younger kids to understand, but you can frame it by explaining that social distancing is allowing for an invisible bubble to keep this germ away. Just like washing your hands also helps to keep germs away. You can explain that it’s temporary and the bubbles are needed, for now, to keep ourselves and others healthy from this particular germ. Need help explaining to younger kids why hand washing is important? You can try the pepper and soap experiment with items you have at home. Click here for a video about this experiment.
Older children can understand the concept of flattening the curve and this can be explained in an informative and scientific way. You can tell them that by limiting social interactions we limit the number of people who get sick and need to be in the hospital so our healthcare workers have the resources to help people.
This is also a great opportunity to talk to your children about healthy habits. To build up your “armor” by eating healthy, exercising, and keeping good hygiene. Giving them specific tasks to do to build this armor can provide a sense of control over the risk of getting infected. This sense of control will help to decrease anxiety and stress.
Games and problem-solving activities have been very helpful to increase family connectedness and decrease worry. You can organize a game night, scavenger hunts with household items, a communication jar to learn about family members’ thoughts and feelings, and online game apps such as Jeopardy!, Family Feud, or Wheel of Fortune.
In addition to playing games, allow time at meals for each member to talk about something that happened throughout the day that made them laugh, made them worry, and made them feel peaceful.
Some additional recommendations for decreasing fear and anxiety in our children during this time are:
- Limit exposure to the news when children are present.
- Try to develop and maintain a routine that is predictable. This will provide a sense of normalcy and safety during these times.
- Encourage your children to journal, write songs or poems, draw, or create video diaries about their thoughts and feelings. They are living through a historical moment. Parents can save these journals for children who will look back at them in the future when history books are talking about these times.
- Most of all, we encourage parents to step away from the stress of COVID-19 when possible and engage in play with your children. It will provide a sense of peace, safety, and connection for both child and parent during a time where we may need that they most.
For more suggestions for talking to kids about COVID-19, we recommend this article by the National Association of School Psychologists.