I am frequently asked by parents how to talk about the Covid19 pandemic with their kids. First, it is important for parents to remain calm and self-regulate. Kids need reassuring from their parents, grandparents and other caregivers that everything is alright even when it is so different. Kids have built in radars. They will easily detect the stress levels of the adults around them. Our human brain is wired to scan the environment, alert us to danger, and motivate us to action. You may be feeling the stress right now, yet we can help our kids not feel it.
What can you do?
Let’s discuss what not to do. Don’t watch the news constantly, with the kids in the room, or within earshot. Do be careful when talking about the pandemic with friends or family on the phone. Make sure the kids are not within earshot.
With three weeks off school and very few facilities open, now is the time to be available to your kids. Talk honestly about the situation and use their age as a guide as to what you share. Older kids will already be using social media as an information source. Direct them to reliable sources. Ask them how they are doing, and engage in family time together. Go for walks and let them talk. Movement helps humans open up. It gets us out of our heads when we occupy our bodies. Older kids need reassurance as well.
Keep messages simple and honest: “we are in unusual times. Canada and our local community are taking actions to prevent the spread of the virus.” Ask them “What concerns they have? What is on their mind?”
Keep the messages tied to community using “we” language. “We are all in this together. We want to protect the most vulnerable people such as those who are elderly and those who are compromised. We can do our part as a family”. Avoid language that stigmatizes countries and ethnic groups. Instead, focus on the universality of this pandemic.
If your kids are younger, make a game of washing hands together and even consider incentivizing it with stickers, stars and praise.
Stick to routines even when all the routines have been disrupted. Sleep, fresh air, exercise and good nutrition help to keep us healthy. This isn’t a normal March break or a snow day. We are asked to distance ourselves socially, so as a family, go to the park together rather than with multiple families. Balance activities that older kids want to do with those of the younger kids. Exercise helps emotional regulation and it helps sleep. If your gym is closed, can you find online videos to do a workout at home? Can you get 10,000 steps a day by going on long walks or several shorter walks?
Are you feeling anxious yourself?
This is normal. Your mind is triggering the fight or flight response. Can you put that energy to work for you? You can do some extra cleaning or food preparation but if you find you are obsessing, take a time out yourself. Play with your kids. Find a distraction such as a family movie on TV or Netflix. Taking time for gratitude can help as well. Fear and gratitude cannot live in the brain at the same time. Notice in rich detail the small things in life that are beautiful (spring flower coming up in the cold earth, the red chest of a robin, the sound of songbirds in the air). Gratitude can help calm the brain the same way that mindfulness does!
If you are feeling anxious and unsure, would you like time with our life coach Juli Fyfe? She is available for remote counselling through a Zoom video conferencing platform. You can book through the clinic, and Juli will send you the meeting link. You will be able to see and each other without leaving your home!