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Tips to Keep Your Child Cautious Yet Calm During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This week one of our social workers, Rachel van Zevenbergen, shares some tips on how to teach children to be cautious while remaining calm during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are officially halfway through the year 2020, and we can all probably agree that it has been a very challenging year.  The COVID-19 pandemic has invited new fears and worries into our daily lives, and has had a significant impact on the mental health of many people. As we navigate this “new normal” and try to manage our own stress, anxiety and worry as adults, we need to make sure that we are also looking out for the mental well-being of our children. That being said, parents and mental health professionals have seen a noticeable uptick in anxiety and worry symptoms in children over the past several months. Between fears about the virus itself, along with social isolation, lack of physical activity, and plain boredom, many parents have witnessed their children struggling more than ever. It can be especially difficult because we do not always have the right words to comfort them, as this is an unprecedented time with information changing almost everyday.  

Below are some simple tips on how to help your child stay cautious yet calm during these trying times.

Limit exposure to COVID 19 news
First and foremost, I would suggest being very careful about your child’s exposure to media outlets, and limiting it as much as possible (depending on age and maturity level). As an adult, reading the latest headlines can be very panic-inducing. Now imagine how a child feels, who has a much more limited understanding of the world. Even if the news is on in the background, kids are very perceptive and may hear something that can really scare them. To take it a step further, it might be a good idea to mention to your childs’ friends parents that you are trying to keep things simple and brief when it comes to COVID information, and perhaps asking that they talk to their child about being sensitive to this. The last thing you need is for your child’s precious time with friends to set off a new spiral of panic.

Remind your child of the positives
Talk to your children about the positives. With so much doom and gloom surrounding us, it can be hard to find that sliver of hope. One important thing to note is that according to the World Health Organization, although children are just as susceptible to COVID, evidence to date suggests that they are less likely to get severe symptoms that require hospitalization  Additionally, a very high percentage of people who are young and in good health recover from COVID. Scientists all across the world are working very hard on a vaccine, and vaccine trials are already underway in the United States.

Use this opportunity to teach your child about good hygiene
This is also a great opportunity to have honest conversations about hygiene and good health. Some of these conversations can include the importance of hand washing, covering mouths and noses when sneezing or coughing, staying home when you feel sick, and respecting the personal space and boundaries of others. To make things a bit more fun, let your child order their own mask in a design they like, or have them decorate their own with stickers, pompoms or tye dye! You could even try adding a few drops of food coloring to your hand sanitizer.  Now could also be the perfect time to motivate your child to really kick that nail biting or thumb sucking habit! 

Stay connected
Social isolation and lack of structure and routine can have a negative impact on mental health and lead to feelings of loneliness, sadness and irritability. 2020 has brought the meaning of isolation to a whole new level, and finding ways to keep kids occupied and socialized has been a major challenge, especially for working parents. Phone calls, FaceTime, texting, a shared digital photo album with family, and even good old-fashioned snail mail are great ways to keep kids connected to friends and family. Now that Illinois is in Phase 4, we have gotten the green light to get together with others in small groups. Socially distant picnics, hanging in the backyard, or taking walks are a great way to get that face-to face contact while staying safe.

Practice Gratitude
There are many people who are being impacted by the pandemic that do not have a lot of resources or the luxury of staying home (I’m looking at you, essential workers!) This could be a perfect time to talk to children about gratitude and helping others. This can be as simple as making a list of things your child is grateful for, sending a letter or some artwork to a nursing home, donating supplies to shelters or underprivileged communities, or even hanging some art in the window to cheer up a passerby.

Keep up with therapy
Last but certainly not least, parents should try their very best to remain consistent with their child’s mental health treatment! Telehealth is a fantastic way to stay connected with your child’s counselor or social worker from the comfort of your own home. For kids who already struggle with anxiety, depression, conduct or mood disorders, it is imperative that he or she continue to get support.  Most insurance companies have already approved telehealth sessions, but it is always a good idea to double check with them to make sure this is a covered service!

NSPT offers services in the Chicagoland Area. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help!Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!

helping a child cope with loss

Helping a Child Cope with Loss

Whether your child has experienced the death of a loved one, the end of her favorite school year, or has misplaced her favorite personal item, loss can significantly affect a child and her expectations for the future. Regardless of the type of loss, the same strategies can help your child process her feelings and move forward.

3 Strategies for Helping Your Child Cope With Loss:

  1. Validate your child’s feelings. Tell your child that she can talk about anything and share her feelings; there are no right or wrong answers. You can help your child process her feelings in the moment as you notice upset reactions or by setting up “free talk” time for open discussion so she can anticipate the conversation. If the child does not feel like communicating through conversation, encourage her to draw out her feelings. This way, the parent can see how the child is processing the event.  It also gives the child a tool to use in conversation if open-ended dialogue feels threatening.
  2. Set up expectations for moving forward. When a child experiences a loss, it can be difficult for her to wrap her head around future expectations. For example, she may wonder, “If Uncle Joe died, will I die? Will Mom or Dad die?” If this concern gets brought up, you can help navigate this by framing expectations for the future to reduce anxiety and get the child back to pre-loss functioning. This can be your opportunity to add in any values or core concepts relevant to your family (i.e. religious interpretations regarding death, personal viewpoints etc.) Pre-arrange with your spouse how you would like to proceed with these tough questions to help frame the child’s expectations for moving forward. If the child experiences the loss of her favorite teacher as she progresses in school, encourage her to identify the positives and negatives inherent in that academic year to create a blueprint to measure future years. You can advise that future years may not be exactly the same but that there will be other high points to come that she is unaware of now.
  3. Engage in therapeutic letter writing. This allows the child to gain closure over situations as she composes a letter to her deceased loved one, her favorite teacher who she is leaving, or the baby blanket she left in the hotel. Provide her with fun paper and makers to compose a letter processing her feelings, what she will miss, and what she will do moving forward. This letter writing process allows the child an opportunity to still connect with her lost item or person. In the case of her teacher, she can actually give them this letter if she feels comfortable.  If not, as with the other examples, she can attach her letter to a balloon and set it free. This will help the child process her feelings and sustain connection in a symbolic and therapeutic way.

Our mental Heath team can help if a loss seems to be overwhelming your child or family.  Click here to learn more.