Six tips for supporting your children and teens during the coronavirus outbreak


Social distancing has changed the way we live our lives. School shutdowns, working from home, and cancellation of social events have profoundly disrupted our routines. In addition to ensuring that your family follows the CDC Guidelines for prevention and protection from COVID-19, also consider they may need help coping with the stress and uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak.

 

Practical tips for how parents can help children and teens cope

Think FLARTT: Fun • Limit • Accept • Routine • Talk • Take back some control

 

  1. Find age-appropriate activities to have fun with your child. Find things your child can do to keep them learning and enjoying this time as much as possible.
  2. Limit exposure to news and social media. Keeping informed is important, however, limiting the news is also important for you and your children's mental health. The news is not just informative, it is also delivered in a way that is designed to cause a sense of alarm (background music, the tone, and expression of the newscasters). This can be especially frightening for young children.
  3. Accept. Let your child know that it is okay and natural to feel upset and worried. Anxiety at a time like this is normal and should be allowed and accepted.
  4. Regular routines are important, including bedtime, eating, and exercise. Make an effort to spend a little time outside while keeping social distance guidelines.
  5. Take time to talk to your child in an age-appropriate way about what is happening. Allow your child to express his or her fears to you and be open to listening.
  6. Take back some control. Research and answer questions together (age-appropriate) about COVID-19. Understanding the risks and how to protect yourself can give you and your child a sense of control which can provide a measure of comfort.

 

Model good coping strategies

Children and teenagers learn how to cope in part, from the adults around them. When children see parents cope with stress in a calm and confident manner, they are more likely to model this behavior. Our children, for better or for worse, use the behavior of the adults around them as a guide for how to perceive and respond to situations.

 

Limit news and social media

Shut the news off and find age-appropriate healthy distractions. Read a book and help your child find the material they may enjoy reading. If your child or children will not read, encourage them to use the extra time doing things they enjoy. This may mean playing ball in the yard, board games or even video games (for a limited time). Learning a new skill or hobby with your child can also be a fun way to pass the time. Coloring, playing with arts and crafts, or learning how to cook or bake can also provide a healthy distraction.

 

Confidence is contagious too

When parents are reassuring and confident, they are more likely to inspire strength in their children and teenagers. Not all children and teens cope in the same way. Like adults, some are more tolerant of uncertainty and stress than others. While one child (even in the same household) can be calm and able to self soothe, another child may need more reassurance, guidance, and support. When you radiate strength, and one of your children picks up on your confidence, it will be less difficult for your other children to keep an even keel. And, you will be able to focus on the child or children that most need support.

 

Your child or teen may not tell you how they feel

Often children do not share their feelings. Younger children may lack the language skills to articulate their thoughts and feelings. Older children may be too embarrassed or reluctant to talk about their fears and anxieties. Children also understand when adults are stressed and do not want to burden adults with their own problems. Even though children may not want to talk about how they feel, there are signs you can watch for that may indicate your child is in distress:

 

In young children 

  • Excessive crying or irritability
  • Returning to outgrown behaviors such as having toilet accidents, (bedwetting) or refusing to be alone
  • Expressing worry or sadness
  • Unhealthy changes in eating habits
  • Difficulty sleeping at night

 

In older children

  • A drop in school performance — even with distance learning, the distressed child may have increased difficulty concentrating on school work
  • Not showing interest in or avoiding activities that are normally enjoyable for the child
  • Not feeling well, unexplained headaches, or gastrointestinal problems

 

In teenagers

  • Using substances such as alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
  • Withdrawing socially from family and/or friends
  • Excessive irritability or anger
  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Change in sleeping habits, (too much or too little sleep)

 

Need more help?

Parenting is always difficult. During this period, parenting is just so much more difficult. It's also difficult being a teenager or child! Reach out for help when you need it. Indeed, we all need some help in maintaining perspective and resilience.

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