Helping Kids Cope During COVID-19
By Kimberly Wesley, Psy.D.
Psychologist, Centra Piedmont Psychiatric Center
As a parent, you may be wondering if it’s even OK to have conversations about COVID-19 with young children. The answer to your question is absolutely YES!
You may be worried that tough conversations may cause anxiety and depressive symptoms to emerge or worsen, or put ideas into your child’s head. Don’t be. Research shows that avoiding these conversations can actually make emotional coping worse.
So, yes, talk with your children! Just follow a few guidelines when you do.
- Ask if the child has heard anything or has any specific questions about coronavirus
- Stick to the facts. If you don’t know the answer to a question from your child, it’s OK to say, “I really don’t know.”
- Be honest. Don’t make false promises or be too reassuring without having the evidence to back up your answers. You don’t want to make promises you can’t keep.
- Understanding is key. It’s important to make sure your children understand the information being discussed. Talk to them at their level. Don’t assume they understand when perhaps they don’t.
- Validate your child’s feelings. Your children may be having all sorts of emotions at this point. They may be scared of things they’ve heard. Maybe they are sad because they miss their friends, grandparents and teachers. Let children know that how they feel is OK.
Big feelings – big behaviors
With big feelings, often come big behaviors. Some children who are particularly stressed might respond with temper tantrums, noncompliance, or other negative behaviors.
Children communicate through their emotions, so it’s especially important for parents and caregivers to listen to see how they are doing so that you can help them get through this tough time.
No daycare, no school, no routine?
Just like you, your children’s day has been disrupted. The best thing you can do is to stick to a routine as much as you can with consistent wake times, bedtimes and meals. Work together to come up with a daily schedule. Some children need a more detailed schedule than others. It’s up to you to determine what works best for your family.
Your child also may not be as compliant at home as they are in the classroom. Remember, they are not used to being with their parent(s) all day or having you as their teacher!
Try an incentive system, such as a sticker chart, to help accomplish goals. You can award points or stickers for completing schoolwork or chores and even add up points to redeem a larger reward, such as a movie night or favorite meal.
Keep your goals SMART
With children at home, it’s important to keep your goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. Here’s how:
- Define the goal as much as possible with using clear language (for example, define schoolwork)
- Be specific: Who is involved? What do you want to accomplish? Where will the project be done? Why are you doing this? What are the constraints or requirements?
- Can you track the progress and measure the outcome?
- How much, how many, how will you know when your goal is accomplished?
- Is the goal reasonable enough to be accomplished?
- Make sure the goal is not out of reach or below standard performance.
- Is the goal worthwhile and will it meet your and your child’s needs?
- Is each goal consistent with the other goals you have established? Does it fit with your immediate and long-term plans?
- Include a time limit. This establishes sense of urgency and prompts your child to have better time management. For example, “I will complete this step by month/day/year.”
Remind children of guidelines to stay safe
Everyone is probably a little exhausted from hearing about this, but we want to remind our children of our guidelines to stay safe during the COVID-10 pandemic.
- Be creative with songs to sing or poems to recite while washing hands.
- Remind children to sneeze cough into their elbow instead of their hand.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth. Gently coach children away from nose picking, nail biting, lip picking, frequent eye rubbing, putting objects in their mouths, etc. Add replacement behaviors – if a child is a nail biter, make them wear gloves. If lip picker, coat lips in Vaseline to remind them not to pick lips.
Stay in touch
Social isolation is a big concern right now, and it’s important to stay in touch with others. Not seeing friends and loved ones also can fuel anxiety, especially in those who worry about the health of others. Try using FaceTime, virtual classrooms, and other social apps to help children stay connected with their peers, family members, and teachers.
This is an opportunity to model appropriate coping skills
Parents and caregivers may be feeling anxious or sad, too. Now is a good time to show that these feelings are normal and model the appropriate skills to cope with these feelings. As parents and caregivers, you can label your emotions and feelings (“I feel sad.”) and then practice coping skills with your child.
Following these tips and guidelines should help you and your child navigate days at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of all, stay safe and be well!
Resources for relaxation and relief
- Smiling Mind
- Breathe, Think, Do (Sesame Street)
- Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings
- Mindful Powers
Use of YouTube and apps to promote physical activity
- Cosmic Kids
- Super Stretch Yoga
- Sworkit Kids