A couple of weeks ago — which feels like a lifetime ago now, my gosh — my daughter came home from school talking non-stop about the coronavirus.
“It came from bats, Mama, and people are getting sick in China!” she exclaimed, wide-eyed. The topic had come up in class because one of her Grade One classmates had been visiting relatives in China when the outbreak occurred. “Now our friend Annie can’t get home!” she said.
It was clear my daughter was alarmed by all of this, particularly when she began peppering me with questions — often the same ones, over and over again (Was the virus in Canada? Would I get sick? Would she get sick? Would our dog be okay?). Now that classes are cancelled, her sense of unease is growing.
No one — not even grown-ups — can control what happens over the coming weeks and months. Fortunately, there are ways we can help our kids manage their stress during this strange time.
Establish a routine
Adults and children alike find comfort in predictability. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends creating a routine, ideally, one that’s close to their usual routine. If your kids are in school or daycare, create a schedule resembling what they’d usually do during the day — from recess and snack time to subject-specific blocks of time and free play.
Do whatever you need to do to be as calm and collected as you can. Children and teens are looking to their parents for reassurance that they’ll be okay. Do what you can to sneak in some self-care for yourself, tricky as that may be, to keep yourself from getting frazzled.
Limit exposure to news
Sure, your little ones are probably not turning on CNN when they wake up in the morning, but they are paying close attention to what we’re doing. Check the news discretely — and only periodically — to avoid exposing children to media that could be confusing or scary. Encourage teens to limit how often they check the news, as well as social media. Reassure kids of any age that you’ll share any new information they need to know.
(For advice on talking to your kids about COVID-19, check out this article and this American resource from the National Association of School Psychologists).
Focus on the helpers
Remember this brilliant quote from Mr. Rogers?
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
Remind your kids of the many ways in which people are helping each other through the crisis. From doctors and nurses at the hospitals, to volunteers delivering meals and truck drivers taking food to grocery stores, to the politicians make tough choices, there are many helpers in our communities.
Stay connected to friends and family
It’s tough for kids to be away from friends and extended family. Schedule video chats and phone calls, send Snapchat or Facebook Kids Messenger messages, and find other safe ways to keep your kiddos connected to those they care about.
Get regular exercise
Exercise helps all of us manage our emotions. Get outside for walks, explore parks nearby, or go bike riding. If you’re stuck inside, search YouTube or other online platforms for exercise videos geared at kids, like Cosmic Kids yoga, or have a living room dance party.
Talk to your kids about anxiety
Children don’t always understand what they’re feeling. Teach them what anxiety feels like and why it’s nothing to be afraid of. Anxiety Canada has a great video for kids and another for teens that can help. There are also online resources to help kids learn to breathe through their anxiety, like this one.