As the world cancels
events and isolates, it’s natural to have feelings around these changes.
experience dealing with life’s ups and downs and have probably developed some
tools for coping. It’s something children, however, are still learning.
We asked a
pediatrician, therapist, and school psychologist for their advice for helping
kids through this.
“Kids, no matter
what age, are constantly looking up to their parents to get a sense of how
things are and if they’re going to be OK,” said mental health counselor Hollie Gonzalez, LMHC, NCC, CCM.
It’s also difficult
life moments like these when we grow. Parents have an important role to play:
being supportive and loving as well as challenging their children.
often really stink,” said school psychologist Nicole Smith, M.Ed., NSCP. “But
these are the big teachable moments. These are what makes a person. Then, when
a big disappointment inevitably happens in life again, they’ve had practice and
Talk about feelings
Gonzalez said that
reading or watching a movie together and discussing the characters’ feelings can
help children vocalize their own feelings. She recommended finding
age-appropriate, reputable sources of information that don’t sensationalize
news. From there, explain the situation.
“It’s important to
let them know that the adults are working on a plan and will protect them the
best they can,” Gonzalez said. “Being transparent can help, depending on the
age and maturity of the child.”
She recommends this
NPR podcast that explains the virus to children and this podcast for parents.
Pediatrician Dr. Neil Kaneshiro,
MD, said he would first tell kids that this virus is generally
like a bad cold for most people and they get better.
“I would also tell
them that we should be proud to live in such a great society that we care so
much about the most vulnerable/fragile people who might be our family, friends
or neighbors that we will upend our lives to do our best to protect them as
best we can,” Kaneshiro said. “We are the superheroes doing our part to protect
those people who are at risk to get very sick from this disease.”
Find the positive
While things feel
different right now, look for the positive. Is there something the family has
been wanting to do that has been delayed because of traveling for gymnastics,
working on homework, or meeting bedtimes? This could be a time to finally have
that family cooking competition you’ve been talking about or introduce the kids
to your favorite movie from childhood.
“Take advantage of
this time you have with your family,” Gonzalez recommended. “It may never be
quite like this again.”
Kaneshiro also recommended thinking about the future. It's a good time to hold a family meeting and talk about how you’d
like to move forward.
“Our schedules and
routines are all upended, and we have a clean slate opportunity to create the
family life we want now,” he said.
“I know that kids are
struggling right now with what they’ve lost: their senior sports season, their
tournament, their performance, their birthday party, their Disney trip. Allow
kids to have their sadness for a bit,” Smith said. “Acknowledge their feelings.
Their feelings are real and big.”
In these situations, think
about what can be salvaged. Ask them what was important about that event and
see what you can re-create safely.
For example, if
graduation is canceled, you could plan a launching party in the fall, Gonzalez suggested.
Make a big deal of it with invitations and slideshows.
She said with older
children, it’s important to give them the space to make their own decisions or
help with planning.
“I think they
appreciate hearing that we’re concerned and care about them and that it’s OK to
seek comfort and support at times like this,” she said.
As a natural part of
development, most teens are moving toward greater autonomy, so the current
situation can feel like a step backward.
helping children keep up with their activities as much as possible. Even
without a coach and team, kids can practice their sports at the park or in the
backyard. Tutoring sessions or music lessons could be done virtually.
Take care of
Taking the time to
model good self-care, health, and hygiene will probably have a great impact on
children during this challenging phase, Gonzalez said.
While it might be
tempting to let things slip, do what you can to recharge yourself. Know that no
one is grading your parenting performance. Everyone is doing the best they can. But, keeping up with
mindfulness practices and physical activity can be good for the whole family.
“For most of us, the reality is that
the kids will be getting additional screen time which is not ideal, but hard to
get away from,” Kaneshiro said.
He reminded that getting outside to play is both safe and
recommended—just keep a distance from large groups.
reminds the public to find calmness during this critical time. Follow public
health instructions and know that systems are still working, like the food supply are still working.
The development of
these habits can help children build coping skills and increase their resiliency
in a rapidly changing world.