All of the information, fears, and personal challenges of adjusting to life in the wake of COVID-19 can be daunting for adults. So it’s fairly easy to envision the anxiety our new reality may be causing children — which can be compounded for children already dealing with social and environmental factors that affect their health and well-being. Learning how best to speak to children about this pandemic can help reduce their chances of ongoing emotional difficulties.
Parents play a key role in helping their children navigate the uncertainty, according to Kamilah Jackson, M.D., M.P.H., a medical director at AmeriHealth Caritas, a national leader in Medicaid managed care and other health care solutions for those most in need. “Your best chance at reaching your children with such heavy news is to try to remain calm and reassuring, while creating a space for your children to share what they know. It is important that children know about the virus, its danger, and how it is contracted and is it best to stick to the facts.”
While clinical experience suggests that most healthy children may not face a significant risk of death2, it is difficult to determine what emotional effects this pandemic will have on them in the long run. “Children do well with structure and predictability in general,” added Dr. Jackson, “so it is best to continue with a routine as much as possible.”
With that in mind, parents may have to adjust their usual habits when watching or reading the news. “Parents should be mindful of limiting the news when children are awake so they aren’t overexposed to the unfolding drama,” said Dr. Jackson.
She also noted that the impact of COVID-19 is being felt differentially by our most vulnerable. “The pandemic compounds disparities we already know exist across race and income levels,” Dr. Jackson explained. “Many parents are in industries where they are not able to work from home, have already lost employment and are at risk for housing instability, lack health care services, and are food insecure.”
Dr. Jackson offers the following suggestions when talking to you children about the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Ask your child what they know about the current situation. Understanding what they are hearing and learning provides a good place to then address any questions they may have.
- Remain calm as you speak with your children, as they will model their own behavior after yours.
- Review the facts with them, but don’t over explain. “If they have questions, answer them without going into excessive detail,” added Dr. Jackson. “They will let you know if there is something they don’t understand.”
- Establish a routine and stick to it. “Schedules have been upset since children aren’t in school, so it is best to wake them at the same time each day and get them into a new routine so they will feel more comfortable,” explained Dr. Jackson.
- Be sure to set aside time each day to talk to your children to get a feel for their mental state. “The news is changing fast and your child may have heard something that is unsettling, so be sure to take their ‘mental’ temperature so they have a chance to ask any new questions that may arise,” stresses Dr. Jackson. “They will feel better knowing that they will have time each day to ask questions or raise concerns.