As discussions of “the virus” and updates pour into our homes, children could be experiencing increased stress and anxiousness. Parents and caregivers have been handed the complicated situation of managing work, self-care, children’s schooling, and home life without any preparatory information or guidelines which can feel overwhelming and helpless at times. It is a lot to juggle, and your children are feeling it too- likely wondering what is going on and why.
Do not fear; you can navigate this strange time and even grow closer to your little ones if you remain open to questions/conversations and encourage them to express themselves. You are likely wondering how to respond to specific questions your children have without freaking them out more. I asked my 6-year-old daughter what she thought were the most important questions to address given her own experience and our ongoing conversations; she came up with an impressively comprehensive list if I do say so myself:
“It’s never happened before, that’s weird, isn’t it?”
Response: “It is weird. We are all learning more about this together; there is a lot to learn. A few things we know for sure are: we are safe, we will be okay, and I’m here for you if you feel upset or confused. Do you have any questions for me right now?”
“What if I get sick?”
Response: “Well, it is pretty unlikely you’ll get sick with COVID-19 because we’ve been safe by staying home a lot and washing our hands regularly, but I hear your worry. There are different sicknesses that any of us could get, and if that happens, then I will take care of you, and the doctor will check on you, and then you will get better. Our bodies are made to fight those nasty germs, so they go away. Doctors and scientists and teachers are all working very hard to keep everyone safe and healthy. Did that answer your question?”
“Why can’t I play with my friends?”
Response: “It is so tough right now, isn’t it? I know you must miss your friends. We are being extra safe, so we don’t accidentally spread germs. Maybe we could set up a video-call so you can see your friend.”
“Why are you telling me to wash and sanitize my hands 1 million times per day?”
^This one made me laugh because there was a major eye roll with “1 milllllion times” 😊
Response: “Washing and sanitizing your hands keep you clean, so you don’t get sick, and so you don’t accidentally get someone else sick. If you use the restroom, blow your nose, sneeze, cough, or you are outside playing, it’s a good idea to wash/sanitize to be safe. Want me to show you how to do a really good job washing your hands? (role model handwashing for a full 20-seconds getting between each finger and getting both sides of your hands with warm water, make it fun by pointing out how many bubbles you made, get fun colors or character-based soaps, etc.)”
“Why are the stores closed?”
Response: “Everyone is doing their best to keep everyone safe, so stores closed to encourage everyone to stay home with their families, and, if we need anything from that store, they will deliver it right to our house instead.” (if more info is needed, you can explain “stores are open businesses where anyone can come/go throughout the day, and if someone was sick and went to the store, then maybe other people could get sick too. Professionals recommended people who are sick stay home so they can feel better the faster and not get anyone else sick too. The stores decided to offer delivery instead of being open, so it is easier for everyone to stay healthy for now.”
“When I see my friends, why do I have to stay farther away from them than normal?”
Response: “It is just a precaution because, if someone was sick and maybe didn’t even feel ill, then you’re not close enough to get sneezed or coughed on. No one would do that on purpose, but we want to make sure you and your friends stay healthy and make sure you can have some fun while we have to stay home more.”
Children are much more likely to open up about vulnerable emotions and ask clarifying questions when the adults speak naturally and honestly (determine what is age- and ability-appropriate for your child). It is also essential to pay attention to signs your child might display when they are on the edge information-overloading (i.e., fidgeting, changing the subject, staring into the distance). Feel free to integrate humor into the conversation, especially if it seems things are getting too heavy for your little one. Being silly and laughing is the best thing ever, and your child will instantly feel more at ease, seeing you with a big smile. After responding, I find it helpful (and empowering for the child) to hold space for additional questions or clarifications. Also, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Get your partner or another loved one involved if you are feeling lost or are unsure how what to say or do during this unprecedented time.
You are the role model to your children for dealing with quarantine, social distancing, and the associated emotions. It is important to take care of yourself by getting adequate sleep, keeping your routines and structuring school activities/work for the kids, limiting news and media to a minimum, eating a healthy diet, moving your body (did someone say family dance party?!), and taking time to connect with loved ones. I have included additional free resources for parents and children. I hope everyone is healthy, safe, and maximizing fun times and enjoyment with your loved ones!
Resources for Parents and Children:
If you're struggling, seek help. Sharp Wellness can provide support through these uncertain times and help you build mental strength to not only survive but thrive. Contact us now.
Serra Ramey, MS LPC LCDC