We can’t promise children that the people they love won’t become sick or that things will get easier by a certain date, but we can provide as much a sense of safety as possible. Besides practicing breathing deep, here are some ways you might help ease children’s worries:
- As much as possible, keep children away from news of COVID-19.
- When children are feeling worried, you can sit with them and encourage them to “draw it out.” Help children name their feeling (worried, anxious, afraid, sad, concerned, frustrated, and so on). Then ask, “What color is your feeling? What shape?” Help them label their picture with words or sentences. This works with any feeling (of course, there can be more than one feeling in a picture). You can model the strategy by drawing your own feelings, too.
- Encourage children to ask questions. Answer them simply but honestly, giving them just the information they are asking for. Often, knowing the facts (even if they are worrisome) is better than not knowing.
- Make one time of day (such as mealtime), or one area of the home (such as children’s bedrooms) a “no virus talk!” zone. In that zone, you might talk about things you want to do again once things change, favorite places you’ve been together, your favorite moment of the day so far, and something you’re looking forward to tomorrow.
- Explain that while we can’t control what’s happening in the world, we can control a lot of what happens in our home. Just by staying home, keeping safe distances, handwashing, and coughing and sneezing into our elbows, children help keep the whole family and many others safe.
You can also watch children for signs of stress. In preschool, these may include fear of being alone, bad dreams, “accidents” or constipation, bed-wetting, changes in appetite, or an increase in temper tantrums, whining, or clinginess. Besides the suggestions above, your extra hugs and reassurance, plus doing calming, comforting things at bedtime, can go a long way.
If a parent is an essential worker, children may naturally worry more. You can remind them:
- Their parent has been well trained to do their job and knows how to keep safe.
- Just as their parent has a job, everyone else in the family has their own important job too. The family is a team. (Children can gain a sense of responsibility by helping with chores and keeping themselves healthy, so that the essential worker can better concentrate on doing their job safely.)
- You can all be proud of the parent who is out there working and helping. Pride can create a sense of meaning and purpose for the whole family.
- Your family is not alone. Neighbors, friends, and other family members want to help your family, and you’ll let them.
Years from now, your children will remember the times you were positive, patient, and calm. Even through this challenge, you can build a foundation of strength and resilience that can last a lifetime.