Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, is a relatively new respiratory illness that is spread rapidly from person to person, similar to the flu. Unlike the flu, however, COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic for as much as a week, meaning they can spread the virus even if they show no outward signs of sickness.
We know that discussing a pandemic can be a topic filled with anxiety and stress for parents and caregivers. Still, children are resilient and need us to be honest with them, especially in these uncertain times. Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we always strive to give you and your child the tools you need to be successful in both ABA therapy and everyday life. So today, we want to help you feel more comfortable talking to your kids about COVID-19.
What Do We Know About Coronavirus Disease 2019?
COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China, after an outbreak in December 2019. Since then, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have grown worldwide, causing more than a quarter of a million people to receive a definite diagnosis. Of those cases, more than 10,00 have resulted in death across the world.
What’s the Good News?
In most cases, especially for patients that are not immunocompromised or high-risk (like patients over 60 years old), symptoms are minor and not life-threatening. Typically, these include a fever, cough, and sometimes difficulty breathing. Because of the rapid spread of this virus, doctors, scientists, and health professionals across the world have urged people to practice social distancing and other preventative measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
What Can I Do?
As a parent or caregiver during this uncertain time, it can be difficult to ward off anxiety, especially since there are still so many unknowns right now. However, because we have kids and other adults looking to us for reassurance, we have to look for ways to cope and discuss this pandemic honestly, but also in a way that doesn’t heighten their fears. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite tips for talking to kids about COVID-19 that we think will be helpful for you to incorporate in the coming weeks as you continue to have discussions with your children.
Three Tips for Talking to Your Children About COVD-19
Before we jump into the tips, we want you to remember something essential: as parents or caregivers, we are the front line—our job is to help make sense of what our children hear in a way that is not only honest and accurate but also minimizes any fear or anxiety they may have. Now that we’ve discussed that let’s take a look at three tips that’ll help you talk through COVID-19 with your kids.
- Check-in with yourself first
- Remain calm and reassuring, but always be honest
- Don’t avoid the subject
Check-in With Yourself First
Are you feeling frazzled and anxious? Have you just watched the news? If you feel like your anxiety has spiked, it is not the right time to talk to your children about COVID-19. Kids are sponges, especially very young children, so they will feed off your emotions and will start to emulate it if you aren’t able to keep it in check. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot feel anxious or worried. This is an incredibly uncertain time for everyone right now, and it affects everyone differently. Above all, we cannot care for our children if we don’t first take care of ourselves. If you have a child asking questions during a particularly stressful time, you can try one of these phrases:
- “Let’s take a walk outside while I answer that question.”
- “Before I answer this question, I think we should take three deep breaths to calm down. Do you want to do that with me?”
If you’re still feeling nervous during this conversation or you notice that your child might be tense, try having these conversations while working with play-doh, LEGOs, or coloring. Sometimes keeping busy while talking about tough subjects can help ease the anxiety you (and your child!) feel.
Remain Calm and Reassuring, But Always Be Honest
The most important thing you can do as a parent, especially when discussing tough subjects, is reassuring your children that they are safe, and you are doing everything you can to keep it that way. Reassure them that mom and dad will make sure they are safe, loved, and happy above all.
Next, it’s essential to be honest. Kids pick up on it when we aren’t open or when we seem unsure, so even if you don’t know the answer to all their questions, that’s okay, but tell them that. While we aren’t going to know everything and we shouldn’t pretend to, we should project calm confidence that there are plenty of people out there that do and are working hard to make sure we all get through this. Here are a few honest phrases you can use as you’re talking to your children about COVID-19:
- “I don’t know the answer to that question, but how about we look it up together?”
- “I need to think about that, can we talk about it later?”
- “You know, there are tons of people asking that same question right now. We are waiting on doctors and scientists to let us know more about it once they gather all the information about it that they can.”
Don’t Avoid the Subject
The biggest mistake we can make when confronted with a tough topic is sweeping it under the rug and avoiding it altogether. Child psychologists agree that this may leave your child even more frightened. So, how can you bring up a conversation about COVID-19 without panicking your children?
Listen first, talk second
Listen to your child’s concerns, questions, and fears. This can be at playtime or before bed, whenever you can focus in on what your child is communicating. No matter their age, a quick reassurance from a calm parent and thanking them for asking good questions will go a long way in easing the anxiety COVID-19 may be causing in your home.
Make time to talk
Be sure that your kids know that they can come to you whenever they have questions or concerns. This doesn’t just apply to COVID-19, however. If you can make sure that you have an “open door” policy with your kids, they will trust that you are a safe place to turn in times of trouble and uncertainty, and the trust they have for you will blossom.
Now that you know how you can talk with your kids about COVID-19, we want to reinforce a few tips you and your family can practice staying safe at home and on the go.
How Can You Protect Yourself and Your Kids from COVID-19?
Health care professionals and scientists have a few simple tips that you can use to stay safe, whether you’re at home, work, or at the store grabbing essentials. These are two straightforward tips that you can teach your children so you can empower them to do their part to keep the family safe, too!
- Stay clean
- Take five
Some simple everyday actions can keep germs at bay. Now is a great time to reinforce good personal hygiene habits like handwashing and sneezing and coughing appropriately.
- Stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing
- If you feel a sneeze or cough coming, grab a tissue or use your elbow
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds—this is enough time to sing Happy Birthday twice—or you can pick your child’s favorite song
- If soap is not available, teach them to use hand sanitizer safely
A simple tactic that you can try, especially with smaller children, is to teach them to “take five”:
- HANDS: Wash them often. Especially after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing or touching things in public
- ELBOW: Cough and sneeze into it if you can’t find a tissue
- FACE: Touch it as little as possible, especially after coughing or sneezing
- FEET: Stay more than six-fifteen feet apart from strangers and people not in your family (please check for updated information regarding this as it is being updated with new research)
- FEEL: If you feel sick, always stay home. Practice social distancing even if you don’t have symptoms
What to Do If You or Your Kids Get Sick
If you or your kids come down with something, it can be easy to worry that you’ve got COVID-19, but that’s not always the case. Remain calm so your kids will stay calm too. Manage your symptoms as best you can from home, but if you do think you or your child has COVID-19, contact your healthcare facility to let them know your symptoms before you head there in person.
There are more and more resources popping up every day to help those with COVID-19 manage symptoms and get better quickly. Take advantage of telemedicine and other resources that allow you to stay away from hospitals and doctor’s offices if at all possible.
Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we want to help support you and your family however we can. If you have any needs during this time, like support with at-home ABA therapy or anything else, contact us today. We’re here for you!