Children and Teenagers will often take a lead from us in terms of how we respond to events, so it is important that we are not overly worried or anxious in their presence.
Every child is different and we all know our children best. We need to trust our own judgment as to what will be best for any individual child.
Children will pick up on things differently at different ages, so as parents we need to tailor our approach.
Younger children do not need to be exposed to a lot of news/ concerning conversations. Think about protecting their time to play freely. We do, however need to take some time with children to find out what they already know from the news or from other children.
They may have questions about what they have heard which could be anything from ‘it’s a bug like a bad cold’ to ‘are we all going to die?’ We need to really tune into what the child is feeling and show them than we understand them: ‘I get the feeling that this is really scary for you?’ Allowing our children to talk about their fears and letting them know we understand will make them feel much more connected and secure.
We can use a calm voice and let young children know that this virus is like a tummy bug or a ‘flu and some people will catch it. We can reassure all children that lots of countries are working hard together to stop it spreading. In this way we are letting the child know that there is a new challenge out there but that everyone is working together to be sensible and help each other.
We can talk with children about good ways that they can help to stop the virus. With younger children we can make hand-washing a game: ‘who can make the biggest bubbles?’ or ‘Wash hands while we sing Happy Birthday twice!’ Encouraging use of tissues and ‘sleeve sneezes’ followed by hand washing will be an important habit for us to teach.
As schools and early years services are now closed, it can help children if we can frame this positively: ‘There are lots of bugs going around so they are going to give the school a really good clean’. Try to help the child see how time at home could be fun and, if it looks likely to happen, we can prepare with about how we might use the time positively.
Teenagers are more likely to be accessing social media so negotiating less time focussed on Covid-19 on social media for a teenager who is overly worrying may be a useful way to help them get things in perspective. At the same time, they may be getting positive support from their friends and, if schools have closed, their access to some fun with friends through social media will be important.
Creating the space to really listen to them and understand how they are feeling will be extra important at this time. Having a frank discussion with them could help them sift fears from facts.
Children and teenagers are likely to go through the same emotional reactions to their worries as adults although they may show this in different ways. They may be either more withdrawn or challenging than usual and much of this will be stemming from information that has worried them or turned into fears. Helping our children to develop some breathing exercises and relaxation techniques may also be helpful to help them to regulate themselves.
We need to let children know that they can come and talk with us at any time as their questions/worries may change as they hear about or think of different things. Listening to children and acknowledging their feelings will help them to feel connected and understood.
Your child may want to spend more time close to you when they are concerned or worried so try to be available to them, as this is a normal reaction.
As parents it is important to stay informed to help keep perspective and to be honest. While it is normal to feel some concern at this time, settling ourselves and our families as best we can will help us to work together to look after each other.
This article is an extract drawn from guidance prepared by HSE Heads of Psychology Services. For information and advice on COVID-19? Go to www.hse.ie/coronavirus.