Do you get the feeling that someone is always watching you?
Your feelings are valid; you’re being watched. Not through tracking devices, sci-fi implants under your skin, or some app on your phone—but you are, and it’s happening every day. And, for the last six weeks, it has become more intense.
It’s your kids. Now that they’re with you 24/7, your little tape recorders with eyes are tracking everything you do, and, most importantly, how you are responding to this pandemic.
If you don’t talk about it, they can easily blow it out of proportion; if you talk too much about it, they can freak out. As the Child Mind Institute says, “Kids worry more when they’re left in the dark.”
So what can you do to help them navigate through this time period?
Stay calm (even if you’re not), and meet it head on. Get your anxiety under control before even thinking about having “the talk.” Process your fears first.
Assess what he or she knows. Dr. Nia Heard-Garris, M.D., an attending physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, says the first thing to do is to ask them what they have heard about the virus; that will help direct the conversation. If they’re not too concerned (it’s like a flu) the talk will be a lot different than if they heard the whole world is going extinct.
Limit news exposure. The news can be scary. And information good and bad about COVID-19 is everywhere—in ads, on shows, on social media, and, especially, on the news. Catch up on the latest after they go to bed; limit their news viewing to a small amount of time per day.
Give them outlets to express their fears. Create a weekly family newspaper; along with the fun stuff make sure to include an opinion piece-type article in which your child can let his or her fears out. Make a video, or write in a journal. One mom created a Coronavirus Time Capsule, a free, downloadable book that includes various activities designed to help kids express how they’re feeling.
Use a simple, consistent prompt. Every day, ask them to name one good thing and one bad or challenging thing that happened that day, then talk about it. Or use some kind of chart that they can point to indicate how they’re feeling at a particular point in time. Do what works for you.
You go first. Talk about what you’re feeling, what you’re missing. Something like “you know, I miss going for coffee with my friends.” Expressing your feelings first opens the door for them to express their feelings.
Keep an eye out for reassurance seeking. Kids ask a lot of questions, however, if you notice that you’re getting the same question over and over again, or if your answer just causes more distress, it might be helpful to seek help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can offer your family strategies for handling and easing reassurance-seeking behaviors. Look for a mental health professional who practices CBT. Many therapists are treating patients via Teladoc or other systems, so that helps remove the scary office visit from the equation.
Practice good hygiene. Make it fun; make it a game. Tired of singing “Happy Birthday” when you wash your hands? Pick another song. Better still, make one up.
The most important thing NOT to do, according to Abi Gewirtz, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Minnesota, is dismiss your child’s fears. “If you simply tell the child, ‘You’ll be fine,’ they might not feel heard,” she says. “Listen to them and track what the child is feeling.”
With a little imagination, you—and your child—will get through this, and have fun doing it. Network with parents; exchange ideas. Remember, we’re #AllinthisTogether.