Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, everyday life has changed and will continue to change for most people in the United States and around the world.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently reports that the risk of exposure to COVID-19 is low for young children, research on natural disasters show that compared to adults, children are more vulnerable to the emotional impact of traumatic events that disrupt their daily lives.
In addition to keep children physically safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is also important to care for their emotional health. Below are some recommendations for promoting the emotional well-being of children during the pandemic.
1. Validate, Validate, Validate.
It is important to understand that Children’s responses to stressful events are unique and varied. Some children may be irritable or clingy, and some may regress, demand extra attention, or have difficulty with self-care, sleeping, and eating. Start by acknowledging how your child is feeling in the moment. It is important for adults to check their emotions as well.
2. Provide age appropriate information.
Limit children’s exposure to media coverage, social media, and adult conversations about the pandemic, as these channels may be less age appropriate and anxiety provoking. Ongoing access to news and social media about the pandemic and constant conversation about threats to public safety can cause unnecessary stress for children and adults. It is important share simple facts about COVID-19 that are age appropriate. Share what it is, explain how it spreads, and what can be done to decrease spread infection (wearing face mask when out, frequent handwashing, practicing social distancing etc.)
3. Practice the 3 R’s: Reassurance, Regulation, and Routine
Adult care givers/parent should reassure children about their safety and the safety of loved ones. Keep or create new family routines, such as learning activities, mealtimes, chores, relaxation, and bedtimes. Celebrate milestones in new and creative ways as much as possible (virtual parties, drive by parties etc.)
Providing structure and regulation helps kids predict what is planned, allowing them to feel control in situations. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. Children need quality time with their caregivers/parents and other important people in their lives. Connect with friends and family members using phone calls and FaceTime or similar apps.
Emotional and behavioral changes in children are to be expected during a pandemic, as we all adjust to a new sense of normal and changes in our everyday routines. If your children show an ongoing pattern of emotional or behavioral concerns (e.g., nightmares, excessive focus on anxieties, increased aggression, regressive behaviors, or self-harm) that do not resolve with supports, professional help may be needed. Reach out to your child’s pediatrician or mental health provider if necessary.
Lastly, remember children’s well-being depends on the well-being of their parents and other caregivers. To this end, adult caregivers/parents should not neglect their own self-care. It is important to stay connected to social supports, get enough rest, and taking time for restorative activities (e.g., prayer exercise, meditation, reading, outdoor activities)