We are living in unprecedented times. The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change the way we live our daily lives. This rapidly evolving situation has been difficult for all of us to handle, but for the children in our lives, it is especially hard to process.
Millions of children have found their normal school year abruptly ended, with lessons now virtual and homes converted into makeshift classrooms. All the experiences that are so important in children’s lives – play dates, team sports, sleepovers, birthday parties, school plays, first dances, etc. – are suddenly not possible.
Kids, like adults, need structure to feel comfortable and grounded. Now we are dealing with a sudden upheaval of our normal structures, with no clear end date in sight. Parents everywhere are struggling to explain to their kids why they can’t attend school, see their friends, go to the playground, visit relatives, or take family vacations.
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Fortunately, there are ways to explain our current state to your children so it makes more sense – and hopefully, feels a bit less frightening. Here are some tips for helping children and teens understand and cope with COVID-19:
- Take time to fully explain the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child or teen can understand. Reassure them that they are safe and that together, your family can help each other stay well. Let them know it is ok to be scared or upset, and give them room to talk about how they’re feeling.
- Limit exposure to news coverage of the event, including social media. Stay informed together, but don’t let your child – or yourself – become overwhelmed by 24 hour coverage.
- Try to keep up with regular routines. Structure your child’s schoolwork like a normal school day, with an hour dedicated to each subject area and consistent timing for lunch and play breaks. Encourage hobbies that involve daily practice, like playing musical instruments or working on dance routines.
- Find ways that you can work together to make a difference, empowering your child to help others. Write letters to thank health care workers, or send cards to senior citizens who live alone. Start a family project to sew and donate fabric masks to those in need; many communities already have such a program established.
- Get outside as much as possible. Take long walks or hikes together, being mindful of social distancing. Encourage your child to pay more attention to nature, whether it’s the flowers in your garden or the birds outside the window. Point out signs of spring and the positive changes it brings.
- Be a role model. Take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members. Explain to your child how you deal with your own stress, so that they can learn how to cope from you. Practice daily meditation and deep breathing together.
- Above all things, be patient – with your child, and with yourself. No one is alone in this, and we will get through it together.
There are many excellent resources and tips for how to talk with your children about COVID-19. These are just a few:
- Kristin Moffitt, of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Boston Children’s Hospital, offers tips for parents about talking with children about COVID-19
- Maia Majumder, PhD, a researcher at the Computational Health Informatics program at Boston Children’s, answers some of the most common questions about how COVID-19 is spread, its potential impact, and how to prepare
- The International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions and Dr. Hesham Hamoda offers tips to help overwhelmed parents support their children during the coronavirus outbreak
- VIDEO: How to Talk to Your Children About Coronavirus (COVID-19) from Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital
- Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource (En Español—PDF)
- Tips on talking with small children about COVID-19
- Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus
- Supporting Kids During the Coronavirus Crisis
- The New York Times Parenting: How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus
- Massachusetts Department of Public Health Preparedness Checklist for your family
- Keeping you and your family safe: Infectious disease expert Dr. Kristen Moffitt answers questions about how the new coronavirus in babies and children, and offers tips on how to talk about the virus with your kids. Click here to watch the video.
- Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (En Español—PDF)
- Check out these tips from education experts and homeschoolers on what do with your children if their schools are closed.