It is normal for adults and children to experience anxiety during stressful events like the current worldwide pandemic surrounding the novel coronavirus. We personally know how this has changed our day-to-day routines, especially for our children. With schools closed, extracurricular activities cancelled, and practicing social distancing, our children are dealing with uncertainty, stress, and fear. Now, is the time to be honest with our children but only age appropriate information.
General Principles for talking to your children
Remain calm and reassuring.
- Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others.
Make yourself available to listen and to talk.
- Make time to talk. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions.
Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
- Remember that viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity. Avoid making assumptions about who might have COVID-19.
Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio, or online.
- Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.
Provide information that is honest and accurate.
- Give children information that is truthful and appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child.
- Talk to children about how some stories on COVID-19 on the Internet and social media may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.
Teach children everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs.
- Remind children to stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick.
- Remind them to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash.
- Discuss any new actions that may be taken at school to help protect children and school staff.
(e.g., increased handwashing, cancellation of events or activities)
- Get children into a handwashing habit.
- Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
- If soap and water are not available, teach them to use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol, especially in schools and childcare facilities. (CDC, 2020)
Help Children Cope
- Self-care is crucial for kids as well as adults. Make sure kids have time to participate in stress-relieving hobbies and games. Try to schedule periods of time where they can do whatever hobbies or activities they enjoy.
- Share information with children, but make sure it is age-appropriate and keep it to the basics. Let children know they are safest when they reduce their risk of getting sick by washing their hands regularly, resting and limiting contact with people outside of their home.
- Reassure them that many people who contract COVID-19 will be sick but most will recover and everyone needs to follow precautionary measures to protect people who are at risk, such as older family members or those with health conditions.
- Acknowledge this is a scary time for many people and whatever emotions they are feeling are valid.
- Make sure youth have a regimented schedule to follow if their school is closed and they are at home. It is important for their days to still have structure and normality.
- Let kids talk or video chat with distant family members, especially elderly ones they may be worried about.
- Be aware of signs of stress in your children. For younger children this could be regressive behaviors such as bed wetting. Stress may also manifest itself in physical changes in appetite or digestive issues, such as constipation or diarrhea. For older children and teens, stress may also cause them to stop eating, as food intake is one of the few things within their control.
- Plan family activities. This facilitates communication and is a chance to connect with children who may be feeling vulnerable. Read a book aloud together, play a board game, create an indoor scavenger hunt or even play a video game with your child.
- Physical activity can promote health and decrease anxiety. If possible, throw a ball around in your backyard, go for a walk in your neighborhood or just turn on music and have a dance party with your kids. (Treviño, 2020)
Author Manuela Molina has created a short book to support and reassure our children, under the age of 7, regarding the COVID-19. This book is an invitation for families to discuss the full range of emotions arising from the current situation.
View and download the COVIBOOK book in English or Spanish.
Check our Recipe section for healthy recipes that the whole family will enjoy!! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter to stay updated for healthy recipes, family activities and upcoming virtual lessons!
More information on COVID-19 from AgriLife Extension.
Writer: Susan Himes (2020, March 22). Covid-19: Self-care Crucial During Times Of Anxiety, Stress. Retrieved from https://agrilifetoday.tamu.edu/2020/03/22/covid-19-self-care-crucial-during-times-of-anxiety-stress/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+AgrilifeToday+%28AgriLife+Today%29
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020, March 19). Talking with Children About Coronavirus Disease 2019 [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html