Written by Meg Cary and Sara Rigel
We know that new measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community are particularly stressful for parents, and for anyone who cares for kids. As we continue to work together to protect our friends and neighbors and slow the spread, we face new challenges, including showing up for our kids in a scary, uncertain time.
Your child may have questions you can’t answer. You may yourself feel stressed or scared. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Remember that you do have the skills to comfort the kids in your life, the same way you help them feel safe and secure every day. Our children are resilient. They will get through this. Here are a few ideas and tips for navigating it together.
Kids follow your lead
Kids pay attention to your emotions before your words. Before you connect with your child about their concerns, check in with yourself. Pay attention to your facial expression, gestures, and tone of voice. If you want to take some space before you talk with your child, just give them a time frame so they know you will come back to them.
Kids are always listening, even when they look like they’re not, so pay attention to what you say when they are nearby. Being honest with your child strengthens their trust. It’s okay to tell them that you don’t know—company and connection is often more important than having answers.
Model how you want your kids to talk about coronavirus—fear and hostility hurts people and makes it harder to keep everyone healthy. Empower your kids to stand up against discrimination and hate. These resources from Public Health can help.
Follow your kid’s lead
Allow your kids to direct discussions about this outbreak. They may act like something is on their mind, but might not be ready to talk about it. Let them take their time so they can reach out when they’re ready. Let them know it’s also okay to take a break from thinking about COVID-19.
You may notice your child acting differently, like being irritable or more energetic than they usually are. Welcome all of their feelings (though perhaps not all of their behaviors.) Be open to the many ways kids express themselves like talking, drawing, dancing, or throwing a ball. They may ask the same or similar questions repeatedly to reassure themselves and to feel comfortable with their understanding. Be patient with your kids and with yourself.
Help kids feel in control with what they can control
In times of change and uncertainty, routines are particularly helpful for children of all ages. Regular times for individual work or play, time outside, and time connecting with others (by phone or safely in small groups) will help kids keep their routines now that they are not in school.
Show worried kids that there is a lot they can do to keep your family and community safe. Give them a job like reducing the spread of germs by reminding everyone to wash their hands before eating. Explain how staying home from school keeps their teachers, friends, and family safe.
Avoid information overload
Notice how you and your child react to the news. Too much news can increase stress or anxiety, while too little might lead to feeling disconnected or uninformed. Find your right amount and help your child find their right amount.
Kids do best with authentic, fact-based information. Share accurate information from sources like Public Health, Washington State Department of Health, and the CDC. Avoid frightening images or language.
Take care of yourself and reach out for support
Take care of yourself so you can take care of your kids: get enough sleep, eat well and stay hydrated. Connect with others. Remember, we want social distancing, not social isolation. Allow yourself to laugh and find fun activities. Help your child think about their self-care activities, too.
Reach out to others. Trusted family and community members, your primary care provider, employee assistance programs, or your faith community can all serve as resources. In addition, they can help guide you or your child to experienced mental health providers for specific support. Children who have experienced upsetting things or the death of someone they love, may need extra support and patience.
This is new territory for all of us. Our kids need support, and parents and caregivers do, too. Have compassion for those who are struggling with child care, and consider ways to share child care duties with other families. Form an online support group. Text another parent when you need help or maybe just a sympathetic shoulder to lean on. Supporting each other is the way we’re going to get through.
If you have general questions about novel corona virus or the situation in Washington, call the Washington State Department of Health hotline at 1-800-525-0127. Phone lines are currently staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m, seven days a week.
Talking to Kids about COVID-19, Washington State Department of Health
We want social distancing, not social isolation, Best Starts for Kids Blog
Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Novel Corona Virus Outbreak