Supporting Your Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Miriam Saffo, J.D.
Currently, our world is experiencing an unprecedented chapter in its history with global impacts on everyone’s physical and mental health in addition to the toll on the economy and society as we know it. This new reality has all of us shaken but it is arguable that none are more affected than our children. The time is now for parents, particularly of two household families, to work together to create a consistent narrative and provide their children with the support they need during these uncertain times. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has offered some guidance on how to talk with your children about the pandemic. These guidelines can be a useful tool for parents to consider when coming up with a mutual plan on how to cohesively approach the topic with their children.
The first step of navigating such conversations with your children is the principal that you as parents must remain calm and reassuring because children react to the cues around them and sensing fear and conflict from you will result in increasing anxieties for them. Second, make sure you both make yourselves available to talk and listen to your children. It is vital that consistency is maintained in the children’s access to both parents, even if one parent is not able to physically exercise parenting time. Children are going to have questions and fears about what will happen to them and their loved ones, it is important to maintain healthy lines of communication and contact with both parents to help alleviate those fears. It is also important to provide them with accurate and truthful information that is age appropriate. Correspondingly, taking the time to teach children the steps they can take to help reduce the spread of germs, such as hand washing, can not only help them feel empowered but also establish healthy habits for the future. For full details on the CDC guidelines visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html.
Seeking the help of mental health professionals can also provide both you, as parents, and your children with added support to keep you all grounded. Many mental health professionals are expanding their services to include phone and video appointments, giving their patients access to much needed therapy during these times without needing to leave the safety of their homes. These professionals can help parents develop plans for how to approach the subject with their children in addition to dealing with their own anxieties surrounding this crisis. Psychologist Danielle Konja, LLP, from Ascension Providence, advises that “we must pay close attention to how children are coping during these times. It is important to create secure home environments so that you and your children can deal with stress and uncertainty in a healthy way by being; calm and consistent; loving and responsive; playful when you can to lighten the environment; nurturing and affectionate; and to model and share thoughtful problem solving.” While so much of what is occurring is out of our hands, there are proactive steps parents can take to make this time a bit easier both mentally and emotionally for their children
Danielle urges parents to validate their children’s responses to the pandemic with the message that it is normal to be anxious and fearful at this time and provide children the extra reassurance that “everything we are doing here in our home, and in our family, is and will keep us safe.” This is a message we all need to hear and take to heart. Danielle advises that it is important to provide these types of reassuring mantras while appropriately answering your children’s questions without overwhelming them. On that front, she goes on to emphasize that “we are all becoming inundated with news and I encourage you to limit your exposure and your children’s exposure to social media and news outlets because a lot of what is circulating is not from reputable sources.” She recommends that we all focus on obtaining information from the CDC and WHO along with a reliable local channel. Danielle also encourages that this is the time parents need to make extra efforts for themselves and their children to focus on setting routines, maintaining good sleep schedules, eating healthy, and trying to get some exercise. Taking these steps, according to Danielle, can serve as a calming mechanism to provide a feeling of rhythm and normalcy for each day.
However, as the CDC warns, children are very susceptible to energies around them. Danielle cautions that, “we all often have blind spots perhaps to how our own behavioral and subtle things are showing in our stress level and especially for parents it can creep into the environment and impact the mental health of the children.” Therefore, she recommends that parents make time to check in with themselves regularly and if they are experiencing a spike of anxiety/panic to ask themselves, “’Is this mine? Where is this coming from?’ If it’s not yours, acknowledge it and release it by imagining the anxiety slowly melting away.” She emphasizes that it is normal for feelings and fears to fluctuate, making breathing and grounding exercises even more crucial during these times. More information and resources for parents to utilize as recommended by Danielle are linked at the end of this blog.
With so many unknowns and constant developments by the minute, this pandemic has left us all grasping for a return to normalcy and stability but none more than our children. Remember: how you choose to react will have a lasting impact, so let us all work together and choose kindness, understanding, and cooperation.
Helpful Resources for Parents and Children:
 Special thanks to Erin Flynn, J.D. and Danielle Konja, LLP.