By Maria LaPorta, PsyD
In the last several days, I have been flooded with texts, calls, and emails regarding how to speak to our children about the pandemic of the COVID-19, or Coronavirus.
Schools all over the country have announced indefinite closures. As panic ensues, parent stress levels are at an all-time high. Not only are we faced with the fear of the virus itself, but now we must make arrangements for home-school, childcare, making adjustments to our own work, shopping for household needs and so on. These things command our attention, and perhaps distract us from our most precious obligation: to address the emotional needs of our children.
Our children hear and see the same things we do. They listen to our phone conversations, watch clips of the TV when the news is on, catch commercials on their iPads, and they see the empty shelves in the stores. They are aware of increased hand washing and the frantic behaviors of the well-meaning adults around them. Many children do not have the emotional language to express their questions or worries about what’s happening and how it makes them feel. Who better than to talk them than you?
Take several deep breaths. Tell yourself that no matter what, you are their parent and while you may not have all the answers or know what to say, your presence alone is comforting to your children.
If you are anxious about what to say, here are some ideas about how to approach the topic. Shut off all distractions, sit with your children, make eye contact, and be prepared to listen. Ask them questions about how they feel and what they think is happening. Ask them what their friends say (since they may also believe or feel the same things). Do not lie, but rather come up with age and developmentally appropriate truths.
Tell your children they are safe. Tell your children that viruses and disease exist in the world, and that there are things we can do to manage them. Tie in their prior knowledge and schemas to help them understand more about this unprecedented moment in time.
Finally, seek teletherapy services for additional support during this time when visiting offices would pose further risk. The present circumstances are beyond stressful, and psychotherapy is available to you without having to leave your home.
Here are some themes and useful links:
• Talk about people who work in a community: nurses, doctors, truck drivers, clerks at the checkout, store managers, sanitation workers, scientists, postal workers, news reporters, etc. Ask how these careers are important in keeping people safe and cared for. You will be surprised at the list your children will come up with!
• Face masks and keeping people safe can relate to superheroes
• Staying indoors and hibernation in winter
• Coping with Corona Virus Related Challenges for Parents
• Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood
• Sesame Street
• Curious George
• Super Why!
If you or your child may benefit from support at this time, contact us to set up a video therapy session:
Central NJ, Hunterdon County, NJ: 551-250-1017 x 5
Northern NJ, Bergen County NJ, Rockland County, NY: 551-250-1017 x 4