With information about coronavirus (COVID-19) and school closures swirling around the internet, including through news outlets and social media, kids and teens can feel confused and worried about what’s going on. Because this is a stressful time, Dr. Sarah Jerstad, associate clinical director of psychological services at Children’s Minnesota St. Paul hospital, is sharing what parents need to look out for and how they can talk to kids and teens about everything going on in the world right now.
Five tips to keep minds healthy while at home
Stick to a schedule
Kids of all ages are likely going to be confused about what to do with their time while schools are closed and activities or sports are cancelled. Kids feel better, and often calmer, when they can stick to a schedule. Try to find set times for meals, homework or schoolwork, and play time or leisure time.
This is especially important if your children have anxiety or depression. Being out of school and away from their friends can feel very isolating.
The most important thing for parents to do in this situation is to relax, said Dr. Jerstad. She explained that kids, especially young children, will take cues from those around them, especially their parents or caregivers. The emotional tone you use when talking to your kids about COVID-19 can often be more important than what you say.
“Parents are the people that children are looking to [to learn how to cope],” explained Dr. Jerstad in an interview with Angela Davis on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). “And parents have that extra responsibility not only to help them manage school and day-to-day life, but to help them manage the anxiety and stress they’re feeling.”
It’s important for parents and caretakers to manage their own mental health during this time. It is okay to tell your children that you are feeling anxious, but reassure them that health professionals are working hard to keep everyone safe.
Limit screen time
While it’s important to limit screen time regardless of what’s going on in the news, it’s especially important during a time when the news can be scary. Do your best to reduce your kids’ exposure to the news so what’s portrayed on the screen doesn’t cause their anxiety to increase.
One of the best ways to take a break from screens is to get outside. “Finding time to each day to schedule some outdoor time is so important,” said Dr. Jerstad.
Give kids facts
It’s impossible to completely shield your children from news about COVID-19. Start a conversation with your kids by asking them what they know about coronavirus, and find out what they are most worried about. Be sure to give your children facts, and explain that people are nervous because this is a new illness. Let them know that we are taking big measures, like closing schools, because we want to make sure people do not get sick.
While it’s important to give kids facts and answer their questions, try not to spend too much time discussing it. Try to get back to your family’s routine, which may help ease your child’s worries. Facts about COVID-19 can be found on the Children’s Minnesota website.
Reach out for help
“[Coronavirus] is impacting everyone; I think there isn’t a person out there who hasn’t been touched,” said Dr. Jerstad. “We’re certainly seeing it in our regular patients… I imagine there is going to be many more people who are seeking mental health help who haven’t sought it up to this point. In fact, we’re working at Children’s [Minnesota] on figuring out just exactly how we can be of help to as many people as possible who need that help.”
If your child is feeling a lot of anxiety about coronavirus, or is having a hard time coping with feelings of isolation, seek help from a mental health professional. Many clinics are sill seeing patients. Some clinics are able to see patients virtually with telehealth, eliminating the need to go to a hospital or clinic.
To learn more about how COVID-19 may be impacting your or your child’s mental health, listen to the full interview with Dr. Jerstad on MPR News: Tips for staying resilient during the COVID-19 pandemic.
More information about COVID-19 can be found at childrensmn.org/covid19.