Child life specialists are developmental experts trained in helping kids understand complex medical situations. Giving kids honest, accurate information about a new or unknown situation can help minimize their stress and anxiety. Sam Schackman, CCLS and Margaret Monson, CCLS, child life specialists at Children’s Minnesota, share some tips to help the kids in your life understand what’s happening around them, as well as tips for parenting during a time of stress.
Help the kids in your life understand the terms they are hearing
The news and social media are using a lot of terms and phrases that kids and parents alike may have never heard before or may not understand. Not understanding what is being talked about can cause a lot of stress, so we broke down some of these terms in a way that will make it easy to explain them to your children.
Coronavirus, also called COVID-19, is a virus that can cause a person’s body to feel sick. Coronavirus gets its name because of the spikey, crown shape of the cells when scientists look at it under a microscope. Coronavirus can cause an illness that scientists have learned spreads very easily from one person to another.
The virus is often spread when we don’t cover our coughs or sneezes, and do not wash our hands. But by covering your cough and washing your hands well, you can help prevent the spread of the virus to others.
Because doctors and scientists are still learning about COVID19, experts have asked us to not get too close to other people and stay in our homes when we can. This is to help so we don’t get germs or share germs that could make people sick. This also helps to slow down the spread of the virus. There will be times when we need to go places, and we will make a safe plan for when we go out in public, like standing farther away from other people.
Flatten the curve
Sometimes when scientists are explaining the spread of an illness, they use a graph or a picture showing growth using lines. The curve of the line shows the number of patients who need medical care over a period of time. Doctors and nurses are better able to care for a high number of patients over a longer period of time. If there are many patients to see over a shorter amount of time it is more difficult.
You can also relate this to something familiar, like your classroom. Imagine your class has 30 students working on a math problem. If every student goes to ask the teacher a question at the same time, the teacher won’t be able to answer the questions all at once. If each person goes up one at a time, the teacher will better be able to help each person.
When an illness spreads very far from where it started and affects a large number of people all across the world.
Things to consider while parenting in a time of high stress
Children with underlying medical conditions may have additional concerns or worries. They may have more awareness or feel more vulnerable.
Reassure your children they already know a lot of these safe skills. Remind them:
- You have been practicing these skills of good hand washing and paying attention to germs. You already know how germs are spread and how they can affect our bodies.
- You are aware and conscientious of your body and what it needs.
- It’s good that other people are practicing these skills of hand washing and sanitizing.
You may also notice a change in your child’s behaviors:
- Sleep disturbance.
- Eating changes.
- Fixated on a specific behavior such as constantly wanting to wash hands or not wanting to go outside to play.
- Worrying about themselves and others.
Reassure your child that you are making the best decisions to protect them and protect others. Try to keep some normalcy and routine as best as you can. Remember that you may make different decisions from one day to the next based on the changing information.
Talk about a plan when you leave your home
If you need to bring your child to a public space, have them hold onto something to keep their hands busy. For a young child putting a small toy in each hand works well. For older children, have them clasp their hands together as a reminder to not touch surfaces or not to pick up things.
When in a public space, play a game that involves other senses. For example, “since this is a no touch store, let’s see how many blue things we can see before we are done!”
Practice ways to maintain social connection while you are out, such as giving “air high fives” from a distance, or simply smiling and waving.
It’s okay to say “I don’t know”
If your child asks a question and you don’t have the answer, remind them that experts are learning new things every day. As adults, we want to have all the answers for children, but it’s okay to say “We don’t know yet.”
This is the time to reassure your children that you are making the best decisions based on what you do know. Remember to be kind to yourself.
Your child may need reassurance this is not a looming threat outside your home, but instead it is passed from person-to-person. It’s safe to go outside, and it is essential for kids to play. Remember, their most important job is to still be a kid!