Up until now, parents and educators weren’t sure about many things happening in regards to COVID 19, therefore, answering questions and concerns of their children was difficult. Now it is time to talk to our kids openly and honestly. By providing answers, children will be fully aware that one Mom, Dad, and their teachers know what is going on in the world, and are working together to ensure they are safe and will continue their education.
Parents and teachers are significant others in a child’s life. If they don’t communicate the same language and messages, children become confused and feel a lack of security. Now more than ever, educators and parents need to collaborate and communicate a common language at the developmental level of the children under their care.
Children look to the adults for guidance on “how to” react to stressful situations. Think about the Toddler that falls. What happens first? He/she looks at Mom/Caregiver for a reaction. If given a response that indicates both empathies and you are okay, the Toddler typically is okay and doesn’t end in tears. But if the response is a parent that panics and is fearful, the Toddler ends in tears. Therefore with the COVID19, acknowledging some level of concern, without panicking, is appropriate and can support the parent sharing the necessary actions that reduce the risk of illness. Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking with them about their fears, and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce stress, fear, and anxiety (trauma). Parents and educators can use this opportunity to be role models for children demonstrating problem-solving, flexibility, and compassion.
Although this has, and continues to be a challenging situation, it is here, therefore, let us all use it as an opportunity to learn and grow together. #alonetogether
- Stay Calm-Remember kids are listening. They hear what adults are saying, what is on the TV or Radio, and the reactions to the information. Your anxiety, fear, and stress carries over to your child. It is extremely important to talk about emotions, and feelings as a family. Emotions are good. Being sad, mad, angry, and down at times is okay as long as they are expressed appropriately and supported. During this time, reassure your children that Mom and Dad (caregivers) are there and will keep them safe. At the same time, be open and honest about feelings and needs as a family so that everyone understands the importance of doing their part.
- Explain what is meant by social distancing (which in my opinion should be physical distancing). It is important to help kids understand the why behind this so it does not become something scary, cause bullying behaviors later, or be thought of as not necessary. Provide your kids with masks, teach appropriate handwashing, and responsibility for doing their part in polite ways to stay 6ft apart.
- Take Time to Communicate, Talk, and Share. For some kids, this may come naturally through many questions. For others, it may show up in other behaviors, therefore, requiring outlets like drawing, deep breathing, games, and just being with you to elicit the conversation. Don’t avoid giving them the information that experts indicate as crucial to your children’s well-being. Often, children and youth do not talk about their concerns because they are confused or don’t want to worry about loved ones. Younger children absorb scary information in waves. They ask questions, listen, play, and then repeat the cycle. Children always feel empowered if they can control some aspects of their life. A sense of control reduces fear.
- Be honest and provide accurate information to your kids. When we do not do this as parents, kids seek answers in other places, and that causes confusion. Having Mom or Dad available to provide insight when learning about challenging, scary and uncomfortable information helps kids feel safe, secure, and most importantly develops healthy communication between parents and children that will last a lifetime.
- Explanations, of course, should be developmentally and age-appropriate. Again the importance of parents communicating with their children-you knows them best! Elementary-aged kids keep it simple, brief with reassurances that adults are there to keep them safe and healthy. For Upper Elementary kids the questions tend to express more worry about their safety. They often need help separating reality from fantasy and rumors. Finally, for secondary kids, conversations can go deeper. They can understand graphs, charts, and history which helps get closer to the why of what is happening. Bottom-line, for ALL children, encourages them to verbalize their thoughts and feelings. Be an active listener-listen-listen-listen.
- Stay up-to-date on the FACTS and connected schools, · Stay up-to-date on the facts. Go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html for additional factual information.
- It is extremely important that you as an adult know and understands the symptoms of COVID19, and model good hygiene and healthy lifestyle practices. The world has changed. It is as though one day in March we stepped through a window onto the other side of 2020.
- Remember change is a process, not an event. So even though things appeared to change overnight, the reality of what is and will be will not happen by stepping through another window overnight. Instead, these children will be the ones who determine our future. Now more than ever, we as adults must ALL work together to be the best of best role models for our children. Be patient and kind to yourself. Again, this is about adjusting to a new normal. For many of us, that means adjusting how we do business after 40-50-60+ years or more of not having to “social distance” for example.
- Be aware of Mental Health Issues as this ends in trauma. Most children do fine thanks to the support of parents and educators working closely together with a focus upon social-emotional learning. By supporting the ongoing development of social-emotional skills, helping children express themselves and know strategies for self-regulation, they will manage through this “stay-at-home” time. For some though, the stress, anxiety, and family situations can be too much. Some examples of behaviors that children demonstrate to indicate further need for help are as follows:
Preschoolers—thumb sucking, bedwetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression in behavior, and withdrawal.
Elementary school children—irritability, aggressiveness, clinginess, nightmares, school avoidance, poor concentration, and withdrawal from activities and friends.
Adolescents—sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and poor concentration.
COVID19 is by far nothing anyone wanted but it is here. But it is an opportunity to find the “next right answer” and make tomorrow a better place for ALL of us. Therefore, take this opportunity to throw out the old, unused, non-essential, inappropriate, nonsensible and unrelatable to the 21st Century teaching and learning curriculum, instructional strategies, parenting, and community-based educational activities, and begin with the end in mind-a better tomorrow!
By together-in collaboration-HOME and SCHOOL, children can turn this challenging and unprecedented time into an opportunity that will create a BETTER TOMORROW for ALL!
· Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Coping-with-Stress-During-Infectious-Disease-Outbreaks/sma14-4885
· Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/children.html
· Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use at Home, at Play, and Out and About, https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/hand-sanitizer-factsheet.pdf
· NASP COVID-19 Resource Center, https://www.nasponline.org/COVID-19
*Adapted from, Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource, National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses, NASP, 2020.