I’m not a mental health professional, just a mom and a grandma but, like you, I see the impact of COVID-19 on every family member. For little ones, their daily routines are off – no play group or library visits, no trips to the playground, no friends over and family visits are by video. Even babies are learning to blow kisses into a screen. It is also stretching inter-generational bonds—I wonder if my own grandchildren will remember me when I reach for a hug.
Young brains are wired to mimic adult expressions of emotion, so you can bet that children are picking up on the isolation anxiety, fatigue and frustration that we are feeling. To nurture them during this time, get talking! For little ones, it’s about feeling safe, feeling loved and adapting to a changed family rhythm. Armed with basic facts, be honest. Answer their questions as best you can in an age-appropriate manner. Then, get them involved in preventative measures so they feel ownership in keeping the family healthy: lots and lots of soapy handwashing, cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve and, if outside, stay apart from others.
You might start by finding out what your older child’s friends are saying or what they access online. Knowing what they believe to be true may open a conversation door; fear can be reduced with facts. This might be the perfect opportunity to reduce news media overexposure. The bombardment of COVID -19 updates make us anxious, so imagine how a young person feels. Maybe check online public health sources together or pick just a couple of trustworthy media streams to follow. And keep an eye on them when important life events are disrupted, as the loss may be a big one. It might be their prom, graduation or a sports tournament, or perhaps it’s their summer job. Give that sadness words, let them mourn and then work on building resilience.
Regardless of age, children should know that while a germ is making some people sick, hospitals and health care workers are looking after us and scientists are working hard to find a cure (or at least a vaccine). And this is not the new normal, we will come out the other side.
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 or text 686868 (24/7 support)
- Kids Help Phone: website
- Kids Help Phone: “Always There” mobile app
- Caring for Kids: Information for parents from Canada’s pediatricians on COVID-19
- UNICEF: How to talk to your child about coronavirus disease
- New York Times: 10 Ways to Ease Your Coronavirus Anxiety
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Talking to children about COVID-19 and its impact