Helping Your Children Deal with the COVID Crisis

It’s no exaggeration to say that everyone
is talking about the Corona Virus – and with good reason. A recent survey found
that 99% of the population is aware of the crisis. So it’s almost certain that your
children have been exposed to all kinds of information about the epidemic. One
of the most important things you can do is to discuss the key issues with them
so that you can guide them through a difficult situation that is likely to be
with us for months to come. In thinking about what to say, it’s useful to think
in terms of three major areas: informing, comforting and modifying behaviors.

Your children already have a lot of ideas about the virus. In talking with
them, start by asking what they know and what questions they might have. This
will give you the opportunity to reinforce what they have right and to correct
what they may have wrong. Without going into excessive detail, it is helpful to
give them an idea about the vast world of the microscopic creatures known as
viruses. This can include the rapid changes they can experience so that they
turn into new forms—the process that actually happened in this situation.
Corona viruses have been around for a long time and we have been able to live
with them. But now, a new variety of corona—corona 19– has evolved and humans
have not yet built up defenses for it. If your children want to know more, you
can work with them to check the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website
. It provides up-to-date, reliable information about the
virus. At the same time, monitor what your children are watching and discourage
them from using their devices to spend extended periods of time on this topic.

The situation is new, uncertain and unpleasant. So it’s only to be expected
that it is going to unnerve your children, just as it is unnerving lots of
people. Fortunately, you have some good news that will help comfort them. Aside
from the elderly and people who are ill, the vast majority of people who
contact the virus do not get very ill. Some people do not get ill at all. And
among those who do, the symptoms are unpleasant but the illness passes. In
addition, it’s important to state that infection cases in children are low. In
China, of more than 44,000 confirmed cases, only 416 (less than 1%) were aged
nine years or younger. This information  may lead your children to ask “Why then is
everyone so upset?” The answer rests with the fact that humans have not yet
built up an immunity and so many, many people will get sick. And even though
children may often not get sick, they can carry the virus and so infect many
other people. The expectation in the United States is that millions will end up
with the virus. But if we are careful, we can reduce the numbers who do get
ill. Clearly, you need to frame the information to fit your situation. For
example, if your children hear that older people are more likely to be
seriously ill, they might worry about their grandparents. Letting them call or
Skype with older relatives can help them feel reassured about loved ones.

Modifying behaviors: At this point, there is no treatment or
prevention for the corona 19 virus. But as has been well publicized, there are
a variety of measures we can carry out to limit the chances of our getting ill.
These include well-publicized actions such as frequently washing one’s hands
thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, avoiding touching one’s
face, not hugging or touching other people—even good friends and family,
keeping a distance from others, not sharing food, drink or makeup with friends
or classmates, etc. Try to show the rationale behind each suggestion. For
example, we know that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by touching
surfaces. That’s why hand washing is so strongly recommended. The big step is
getting your children to regularly follow the guidelines you’ve been discussing.
Significantly, literacy can play a role in achieving this goal. Although it is
not much discussed, children can be strongly affected by “to do” lists
that are in written form (as opposed to just discussing them). So, once you
have covered the main points, you can list them –as brief notes but in large
letters–on a sheet of paper. Then place the paper in a place where your
children can see it and refer to it throughout the day. It’s good to put copies
of the list in several places such as the kitchen, the bedroom, the family room
and so on. That way, it is steady reminder of what needs to be done.  

Finally, make sure to convey the message that although it is front and center now, this crisis will pass.

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