Families: How to talk to Children and Loved Ones About COVID-19
Looking for support for your Child during the COVID-19 crisis. These resources are there for them:
It is important to talk to your children about Covid-19. Below are some links to help you navigate the conversation.
Helping Teens Cope with the impacts and restrictions of Covid-19
How do I Talk to My Children about COVID-19 and Support Them as Best as Possible?
Children and adolescents may struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic, because their lives have changed dramatically (e.g., school closures, staying at home, being separated from friends and normal routines). They may also feel fearful or overwhelmed when they access social media and talk with their friends about the pandemic. In fact, there is evidence that social media may escalate anxiety more than traditional media, and that too much media coverage of any kind in a public health crisis or extreme event can amplify distress and undermine mental health.
Kids are often the first to respond to any strain on the family unit. They typically don’t have the internal resources that adults do to manage high levels of stress and frustration. They may also sense anxiety or heightened irritability in their parents/guardians, and start to worry about the health of those they care about (immediate and extended family members and close friends). Even when a parent may not be aware of some of their own subtle changes in mood when under stress, these cues may be picked up by other family members.
Just like adults, not all children respond in the same way to stress. Some negative behaviours may be motivated by a need to exercise a level of control or seek safety in their surroundings. Some children may become clingy and want more attention, others may become distant, defiant or argumentative, still others may become more controlling, or insistent on doing things their way. Unfortunately, these behaviours may also result an increased level of conflict at home or between siblings.
It’s important for parents to be honest in their communication about the virus and not lie about its seriousness, but also to model a sense of calm and an optimistic attitude. Some children will want to talk about the pandemic, and some won’t – both are common and natural reactions. It’s important for parents to check-in and let children know they are ready to listen whenever their child is ready to talk. Invite the conversation with open-ended questions such as,
- “What would you like to know?”
- “How does this make you feel?”
- ‘When you feel, X what does that make you want to do?”
- “What do you need right now?”
- “When you do X, how do you feel?”
It’s alright not to know the answer to every question. You can model yourself as a learner and explore the question together; but try not to provide excessive information (it may be best to start with small amounts of information and see how they respond). Probably the best thing parents can do to foster a positive environment at home during the pandemic is to be kind and caring to each other and themselves. Unless parents take time, even a few minutes, for themselves during the day, they will have difficulty modelling resilience and a sense of calm for others in the home.
There are many things you can do when talking with your children to reassure them in ways that are age appropriate and helpful. The Canadian Addictions and Mental Health organization has prepared a list of tips that will help you to talk with your children about COVID-19.
Another helpful resource with age-appropriate information is the Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network
How can I Support Colleagues and Loved Ones who are Very Anxious about the COVID-19 Pandemic?
As psychological research has shown for decades, our perception of risk is driven by our emotions to a much greater extent than by looking at data and evidence. When people feel they lack control over a fearful situation, or when a situation is new or unfamiliar, this fuels their stress. In such situations, it is often best to focus on what you can control and accept the rest. During this pandemic, there is currently no vaccine available. However, as with other viral infections, there are simple things that everyone can do to minimize exposure and risk. For example, it’s extremely important to practice good hand hygiene, meaning washing hands regularly with soap and water. It’s also important to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. It is important to emphasize with friends and family that these simple actions are within our control and are some of the most effective measures to prevent the spread of this virus.
As well, for first responders, if there is the potential to be in contact with individuals who are suspected of being infected with the coronavirus due to their symptoms and travel history, nitrile gloves and a surgical mask or N95 respirator will significantly reduce the risk of transmission.
People handle anxiety in different ways. Some people prefer a more rational and active approach when responding to anxious feelings (e.g., they may like to gather information, problem solve and take action to feel better), while others may prefer a more emotion-based approach (e.g., venting their feelings). While risk information that is communicated in a consistent and authoritative way can be helpful to many, becoming immersed in news or social media exposure can exacerbate anxiety.
There are a number of other strategies that may help friends, colleagues and loved ones in managing their COVID-19 –related anxiety (from Hollenstein, 2020).
- it may be helpful to suggest they refocus their attention on others, rather than only their own health, since another way to reduce distress and anxiety about the uncertainty ahead or self-isolation is to think of how you can have a positive impact on controlling the spread.
- People can also try to reframe their situation: One possibility for those distressed by the social isolation or feeling like their anxiety is unique is to notice how each of us are not alone in this. People around the world are grappling with their uncertainties, responses, and self- or other-imposed social distancing, as we are in Canada. We are all in this together. Further, it may also helpful to keep any eye out for positive events or experiences that can help to balance current focus on negative events and experiences.
- It may also help people to focus on reaching out to others, figuring out ways to help or provide social support. This could involve making a meal or doing some shopping for an elderly neighbor (with appropriate cautions to not infect others, of course). Maybe it is being there to listen. Often, when we see others having a hard time, we want to jump in right away and offer a solution. Sometimes listening and validating someone’s feelings is enough. It is one of the great ironic truisms of life that helping others makes us feel better about ourselves.
- At the same time, do your best to listen and aim to be empathic (try to see things from their perspective to understand how they feel). If they are open to your help, ask how you can best support them. If they are seeking information, share the facts in a clear and straightforward manner that is age appropriate. Further, check in with them occasionally to see how they are doing, and keep the lines of communication open in case they need your support.
- Finally, in order to help others during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is very important for you to take care of yourself. Public Safety Personnel dedicate their lives to helping others, but it’s important to remember that it is okay for you to say that you need a break. It’s also healthy to seek support from others when you need it.