Well, we are getting to the end of week two of social distancing and home schooling, and there is no end in sight. At times, I find panic and anxiety, my old friends, just waiting to let loose and take over my brain. That’s when I take a breath or two and then I remember… I come from survivor stock. My mom and bubby are Holocaust survivors. However, come to think of it, we never really talked about that much. In fact, we were always “shushed” when asked questions and told not to speak of such horrid things.
However, as we now know, that approach can incite even more fear and anxiety than having the difficult discussions. So, now there is a new terror in our world – the coronavirus. How will we speak to our children about this? Clearly, children’s ability to digest the facts depend on their age and development.
Speaking to Your Children About the Coronavirus – A Professional’s Viewpoint
To assist me with this piece, I asked my colleague and friend, Laura Hoffman, LCSW, who is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience. Ms. Hoffman is also a seasoned therapist with her own practice and also a veteran social work supervisor at Adoption ARC to assist us in navigating this new terrain.
The first piece of advice is to remain calm and even toned. Remember that children see our faces and body language and can react to them. It is important to realize that we are our children’s foundation.
Ms. Hoffman recommends beginning with asking your child how they are feeling and creating an environment when you find that your child is most willing and comfortable to open up. Is that bath time for your 6-year-old child? Is that staring at the iPhone for your teen? Don’t assume how your child is feeling by projecting your own feelings or fears.
Listen to their fears and concerns and validate them. Don’t try to explain these away.
- Is your daughter upset because she can’t go to the junior prom with her new boyfriend and wear her dress?
- Is your preschooler sad because he won’t have finger paint Fridays with Mrs. Smith?
It’s easy for parents to minimize these concerns. We, as adults, know that people are struggling and ill. This is such a dire time for many, but we need to remember that our children and going through their own age appropriate stages of life and need the time and space and permission to grieve their own losses.
Alleviating Childhood Anxiety During a Crisis
The Centers For Disease Control recommends that parents observe the content of what their children are viewing. This may be easier for kids that are very young and do not have internet access. Make sure that if you have the television or news on, that it is not constant. The constant repetition can be unnerving even for adults and could put adults as well as children on “overload.” Take care to check in with your teens to monitor what videos and news they are watching. This is also a good time for discussions about facts versus sensationalism, especially in regard to social media and YouTube.
Now is a time where we can help our youth understand that there have been pandemics throughout the history of time and civilization. We have been through it and we have endured. Ms. Hoffman opined that “Human beings respond to uncertainty with anxiety.” To combat that anxiety, give your children specific tasks or directives that are known to decrease the spread of the virus.
Creating a Positive Atmosphere for Children
On March 24, 2020, the New York Times reported that the New York Attorney General, Letitia James, has launched a hotline for Asian Americans to report hate crimes and discrimination that they may have, or will encounter during the corona virus outbreak. While I applaud these efforts, it is quite sad that we have a need for such a tool.
As we know, through history, when people are fearful, scapegoating is prevalent. This is a wonderful opportunity for us, as parents, to dismantle systemic racism. For example, call the virus by its scientific name not the “Chinese virus,” which is irresponsible and plants seed of fear and hate toward the Asian community.
Also, looking at the havoc that the virus has wreaked upon China, it is clear that people have suffered quite significantly as we are, and this should bond us together rather than tear us apart. In fact, physicians and medical staff all over the world are working together to share information and a vaccine together.
In this time of such pain and sadness, we need to pick out what is “positive” during this calamity in order to encourage children to realize that “good in the world” still exists and we will recover from this. Let’s focus on the good neighbor who brings the elderly couple down the street some bags of groceries. We can also speak about how the school systems have come up with remote learning in such a short time so that children could continue learning. Although half the country has been advised to stay at home now, this gives us the opportunity to really connect with our families and spend unlimited time together.
This is certainly an extraordinary time, but we are extraordinary families and we will continue to raise grounded, resilient children.