The attention of the world is focused on measures to lessen the transmission and economic effect of the COVID-19 outbreak. Due to this rapidly changing situation, media and social conversations are dominated by the pandemic. Children are exposed to so much information and high levels of stress and anxiety in adults. At the same time, children are also experiencing major disruptions to their daily routine and social network. In addition to their fears about the virus, difficulties can be compounded by parents who have lost their jobs and are struggling financially.
The physical symptoms of the coronavirus are well documented. However, the mental health effects are not. And while children are less likely to become ill, the effects on their mental health and well-being may be difficult to determine.
So, how can we help our children during this world of change and uncertainty? Parents want to protect their children from distress and may avoid discussing current events and the corresponding emotions. According to research, children as young as two years old are aware of changes around them. Children’s understanding naturally evolves throughout childhood and adolescence. Therefore, when parents talk to their children, the discussion should take into account the child’s age and level of understanding.
Parents often want to know how their children are feeling, but they may not set an example by sharing their own feelings. Instead the conversations are focused on the practical aspects of the situation. According to research, parents may specifically use factual or technical language to attempt to lessen their children’s distress. Without emotion focused conversations the children may feel anxious about the emotional state of the adults around them. This anxiety in turn can result in children’s unwillingness to share their own feelings in an attempt to protect others. This leaves the children to cope with their difficult feelings alone.
Parents need to be honest about some of the uncertainty and challenges of the pandemic, without overwhelming children with their own fears. This honesty not only offers an explanation for what children are observing, but also grants them permission to talk about their own feelings. Normalizing their emotional reactions and reassuring them about how the family will take care of each other helps to contain anxiety and provides a shared focus.
If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, don’t hesitate to seek advice. BHS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 800-245-1150.