As COVID-19 has become a major public-health concern, many aspects of our day-to-day are changing. Schools and businesses have closed, events are canceled, and this can lead to fears in our children and ourselves. Many parents are wondering how to talk with their children to alleviate fears.
Experts can give parents the language to calm their child’s fears, and parents could recite that script perfectly. But here’s the thing about kids: They are the ultimate truth tellers and the ultimate truth see-ers. If parents are afraid, kids will be, too. So regardless of what you say, the best thing you can do to calm your children is to calm yourself. Life is about assessing threat and risk and responding reasonably and rationally.
Here are some things you can do to stave off panic.
Breathe. It sounds cliché but it’s not. When we are fearful, our nervous system is activated and our breathing becomes shallow. Our body goes into fight-or-flight mode, which causes other changes in our body as it prepares us to run or fight the proverbial bear. However, focusing on our breath, engaging in meditation or mindfulness practices, can help to deactivate this physiological response. In addition, anxiety tends to create tunnel vision that has us notice only the perceived threat. Focusing awareness in the present moment and noticing surroundings can help broaden your perspective and help you feel calmer.
Keep a routine. Many of our routines have become completely disrupted. Our routines serve as ways of keeping us calm, while an inability to predict our environment causes us to feel stress. During this time, where it appears much is uncertain, do your best to keep a routine for yourself and children. Keep bedtimes and mealtimes the same, if your kids are home and engaging in “e-learning” have specific times for school work and play. These routines will help you and your children feel some predictability. Although routines are important, parents should be flexible with expectations for themselves and their children. Now is the time for parents to be kind to themselves and cut themselves some slack.
Self-care. While social distancing rules suggest we skip going to the gym, we should not skip exercise. Continue to carve out time for you and your children to engage in self-care. Take a nature walk, do some yoga in the house, play outside (with safe distance). In addition to social distancing, it may be beneficial to engage in some screen distancing. Continue to keep updates with trusted local and national news sources, but limit screen time. The 24-hour news cycle only serves to feed our anxiety. Assess how you feel after spending too much time on social media or watching the news, and if you continue to feel elevated and anxious, take a break. Identify specific times throughout the day that you will check in with trusted news sources and then engage in other activities. Appropriate distraction can be helpful for both parents and kids.
Prepare and plan. Perhaps most important to our physical and emotional health is to have an emergency plan. Be sure to have the necessities such as medication and food available, while being mindful of panic buying. Being prepared and having a plan will not only serve you in a true emergency, but also will ease anxiety as you feel more prepared for the unknown.
While the threat of the virus is a cause of stress, it is also all of the unknowns that are fueling even more stress. This can make parents feel more anxious, and kids will pick up on that anxiety. As parents, taking steps to reduce your own panic and anxiety will communicate to your children that they are safe. Although what we say to our children is important, your kids will take their lead from the emotions you communicate, so be sure to focus on reducing your own fear. It’s OK to feel fear, but it’s important to acknowledge your fear and take appropriate steps to reduce what you can. Panic is never good preparation.