With the COVID-19 pandemic dominating most conversations these days, children have no doubt heard about the coronavirus and may be experiencing fear and uncertainty.
Licensed mental health counselor Yasmin Rey offers some tips on how to address COVID-19 with kids. Rey is the program coordinator for the Child Anxiety and Phobia Program at FIU’s Center for Children and Families.
- Don’t avoid the topic. Children have already heard about the virus from the news, at school, or have seen people walking around wearing masks. When we avoid talking about important topics such as the coronavirus, it conveys to children that the topic is “off limits,” which can increase worry and anxiety in children.
- Stay calm. When talking to your child about the coronavirus outbreak, first make sure you are aware of your own feelings of anxiety or fear. If you’re calm and reassuring, your child is more likely to be calm. If you’re anxious or frightened, they will respond accordingly.
- Reassure child by providing factual information. Stories on social media and the internet can be misleading. Some have inaccurate information and could lead to increased anxiety and worry. It is important to provide your child with age-appropriate factual information. For example, you can reassure them that health care workers are working hard right now to help keep people safe. You can also explain to them that the coronavirus is not as common as the flu, and that the scientists who study the virus think that most of the people who get sick will be fine, especially children.
- Avoid giving too much information. Follow your child’s lead and be there to answer whatever questions your child may have. Giving too much information can be overwhelming and can increase feelings of anxiety. If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can research the answer together.
- Limit news exposure. Set limits on how much news coverage your child consumes; but more importantly, set limits on how much coverage you consume. News coverage typically focuses on the negative. Often, news coverage is not age-appropriate for children. Being exposed to repetitive news stories on the impact of the virus can increase worry and anxiety for you and your child. Don’t be afraid to get off social media, change the channel or turn off the television.
- Show empathy and warmth. If your child is nervous or scared, validate their feelings by letting them know that what they are feeling is normal and that they are not the only ones who feel this way. Not validating their feelings will only increase their worry and anxiety.
- Give them a sense of control. Talk with your child about what you can do as a family to stay safe. Including your child in the discussion can help them feel that they have some control over the situation. Educate your child on what steps they can take to stay safe — washing their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before they eat, or use the bathroom, or after they are done playing, or after coughing or sneezing.
- Keep a routine. Children need structure because it helps to decrease feelings of uncertainty. For example, if your child’s school has not shut down due to the virus, then your child should go to school. If schools are shut down, then provide your child with as much structure as possible at home. For example, make sure your child is doing their schoolwork at home during school hours, and that they keep their regular bedtimes and mealtimes.
- Continue the conversation. It is likely your child may continue to have questions as new information about the coronavirus arises. Reassure your child that you are always going to be there should they have additional questions.
Families can obtain additional information and resources on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. If you think your child may be experiencing symptoms that are interfering with daily functioning, contact the FIU Center for Children and Families at 305-348-0477 to seek help.