As COVID-19 continues to spread through our communities and impact our daily lives, it is important for parents and caregivers to speak with their children about what’s happening. Peyton Katz, child life specialist at HSS, provides these tips to help children feel safer in these uncertain times.
Be honest. Children pick up on conversations around them. If you don’t directly address the situation, they might end up imagining something worse than reality. Explain what is going on in simple, relatable terms. For young children, you might say something like, “Coronavirus is a type of illness caused by germs. When the virus gets into people’s bodies it can make them very sick.” Validate their feelings, allow them to ask questions and remember it is always OK to say you don’t know the answer.
Talk about what your family is doing to stay healthy. Reassure them that there are things they can do to prevent the virus, such as:
- handwashing to help get rid of the germs that cause the virus
- maintaining physical distance from others to keep from sharing germs with other people
- eating a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables and staying active to help our bodies stay strong
Focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t. Children are unable to go to school, the playground or their friends’ houses. All these restrictions can feel overwhelming for a child. Try to instead focus on all the things they can do right now, for instance:
- play with toys, board games and puzzles
- try a new art project
- read a book
- bake a treat or help cook a meal
- video chat with loved ones (physical distancing does not mean social distancing!)
Remember that children pick up on adults’ emotions. Children look to the trusted adults in their lives for indications of how they should feel during unknown situations. If you are visibly worried, your child will think there is something for them to be concerned about. These are difficult times and it is OK for you to let your children see that you are nervous or upset. But reassure them in these moments that they are safe.
Maintain routines. Routines help children know what to expect and promote a feeling of safety in uncertain times. Creating a visual schedule is especially helpful for young children. Keeping to mealtimes and bedtimes, as well as setting specific times for schoolwork and other activities, are good practices for children of all ages.
Peyton Katz, CCLS, is the Pediatric Patient and Family Care Coordinator and Child Life Program supervisor at the Lerner Children’s Pavilion at Hospital for Special Surgery. As a certified child life specialist, she works with children and families to help minimize stress and anxiety associated with hospitalization and medical treatment. She is also the program director for the Adaptive Sports Academy at the HSS Lerner Children’s Pavilion.