Talking to Kids About Coronavirus: Expert Advice & Resources for Managing Stress & AnxietyBy Lara DiPaola
Posted Mar 16, 2020
As parents across the country, really all over the world, are faced with major challenges due to the COVID-19 (Corona) virus pandemic, your CertifiKID team is working hard to find resources that can help in this unprecedented time. After all, we are parents first.
In the coming weeks, we will continue to support our partners, big and small, in ways that still bring you value as families and members of our community. Know that none of us is in this alone and the more we can do to help each other, the better. For this article, we reached out for advice from experts and tapped into resources to help us deal with stress and changes as most of us are feeling stressed to some level. That includes our kids.
Jud Brewer, M.D., Ph.D. is a neuroscientist, psychiatrist and internationally recognized expert who has pioneered the use of evidence-based mindfulness techniques to combat anxiety and stress. Dr. Brewer is director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University, an associate professor of behavioral and social sciences in the Brown University School of Public Health and founder of MindSciences. We interviewed Dr. Brewer earlier this week.
When a child expresses fear about the coronavirus, what should parents do?
Children’s brains are still developing. Specifically, the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), which is the part responsible for logic thinking, is still maturing so kids don’t have the “emotional machinery” to deal with situations like the coronavirus. Also, know that children feel even more uncertainty than we do as adults, but without the experience to fall back on. Children don’t always express emotions in the same way that adults do. Fear and anxiety may come out as anger, combativeness or withdrawal.
If you see signs of anxiety, ask your child what they’re feeling and help them name the emotions. Validate their feelings/emotions, especially fear. It is real to them and telling them “don’t worry” or “it will all work out” without first validating their emotions doesn’t give kids the opportunity to process them. It sets up a habit loop of dismissing or minimizing their emotions. If it’s real to you, it’s real to them, too. You may even want to share your emotions with your kids at the appropriate time. If you’re feeling anxious, you can let them know (without panicking, of course) so that they can see not only that such feelings are “normal” but also that dad and mom can be anxious and still calm and in control. Strong emotions don’t have to be scary. Your behavior now is the model they will emulate into adulthood and beyond.
What can families do to reduce anxiety, fear, and/or stress over what is happening?
Kids have even less control over their environment than adults do right now. Remember that you also have at least a few prior experiences dealing with a crisis, like the 2008 financial meltdown, the 9/11 attacks, etc. You’ve seen how bad things can get and how eventually things are worked out. Kids don’t have those touchstones and may assume that it will only get worse and never gets better. Small things that provide more certainty and structure in tough times are reassuring. This is a good opportunity to:
- Over-communicate about the normal details of life (i.e., what time mom gets home from work.)
- Provide small opportunities for control (i.e., let them pick what’s for dinner.)
- If possible, some extra family time goes a long way. This can be as simple as bedtime reading, games, a movie or moving meals from the TV room to the table. When together, make sure to talk and, more importantly, listen and give your children a chance to voice how they are feeling.
Last, if you have physically distant relatives, like parents, call them with your children. A video call with the grandparents is great for everyone!
What steps should parents take to care for themselves?
This is perhaps the most stressful period many of us have ever lived through. Adding parenthood to that doesn’t make it any easier. First, know that taking care of yourself is really taking care of your family. They need you to be at your best so anything you do for yourself directly benefits them. Some simple things you can do include:
- Taking small breaks. They can be as short as a few minutes. Find a quiet place to sit and take deep breaths. You can even set a reminder to make sure you take the time. And, if you meditate, this is a good opportunity.
- In times of stress, physical exercise is really helpful. Nothing excessive is needed here: A nice walk is plenty. Research consistently shows the mental health benefits of exercise.
Remember to enjoy the time you are getting to spend with your children. Even though it might be trying because of coronavirus-related restrictions, it’s still a privilege.
Family time is exactly what we specialize in here at CertifiKID and there are still some deals you can use during this time. Even though you might not be able to head out to your favorite play place right now, we are still here to help and help you save!
“Telling kids how they can help provides a sense of agency and can turn anxiety into an actionable goal.” Dr. Sabrina Stutz, pediatric psychologist with Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California.
Armed with this expert advice, we’ve put together a list of fun, practical ways for families to beat stress together.
Apps That Help With Stress, Sleep, and Anxiety
HeadSpace - A simple, easy introduction to guided meditation and mindfulness, HeadSpace offers a full library of themed courses. You can choose the voice and gender of your guide, pick the courses that suit your need, and it even has some great bedtime sounds and exercises to help you and/or your kiddos sleep well. HeadSpace also offers a 7-day free trial!
UPDATE: Headspace has announced that it will be providing free Headspace Plus subscriptions to healthcare professionals working in public health settings in the US through 2020 to address rising levels of stress and burnout. Headspace will also be unlocking the free, specially-curated "Weathering the storm" collection of meditation and mindfulness content.
Talkspace - An online therapy platform that offers 24/7 access to affordable mental health counseling from the comfort of your home. Talkspace even offers a Teen Therapy program for ages 13-17. Use code CERTIFIKID105 to receive $105 off Talkspace therapy services.
Unwinding Anxiety. This is an app produced by Dr. Brewer and his team to help manage anxiety and keep it at bay.
Calm - The name says it all, really. This app helps to calm and center the user in a mindset that can help reduce stress. You can choose calming sounds, like ocean waves or cricket song. Some of the other features include stores, bedtime relaxation, meditation, and breathing exercises. Calm also offers a free trial period!
Happify - This app is grounded in the fields of positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. By helping to reduce stress, banish negative thoughts, and overcome challenges, the creators of this app hope to help you find more happiness in your daily life. Who couldn’t use a little more, happy?
Adult (and kid) Coloring For Stress Reduction
According to Psychology Today, adult coloring books have been shown to influence more than anxiety. Researchers at the University of Otago found that after a week of daily coloring, participants displayed significantly lower levels of anxiety.
What better way to beat back stress than being a kid again, and maybe joining yours for a coloring session? Don’t have coloring books around? Grab some online or grab a Kindle Fire and use one of the fantastic coloring apps for kids and kids-at-heart!
Reconnect With Nature
Social distancing doesn’t mean we have to stay hunkered down at home. Though if that’s how you’re dealing with this, it’s completely fine and understandable. As of the writing of this article though, we aren’t being asked to quarantine at home as an entire population. That means getting outdoors is still doable.
Go for a walk around the block, play games in the yard, or head out on a nature scavenger hunt. The Bug and Buddy website offers over 30 printables for scavenger hunts outside. Maybe avoid heavily trafficked playgrounds, but still go out and soak up some sun and fun!
Keep The Learning Going
Schools in many states are starting to shut down. While that is likely a good thing when it comes to keeping the virus at bay, it can be hard to wrap our minds around how to keep the learning going. Some schools may have a distance-learning plan in place already. Others might be trying to catch up. Either way, if you aren’t a seasoned home-schooling family it may be hard to wrap your head around how this works.
The good news is that there are more and more resources available to help. And the list is growing. Here are some we’ve been able to gather so far.
Kids Active has published a list of education companies that are offering free resources.
Teach Mama has put together a plethora of resources including printables to help keep your family on a schedule. Remember how hard it can be to keep the kids learning over the summer? This could be a game-changer, not just during this difficult time but in the summer, too!
Many seasoned home school communities are sharing their resources and advice. The Princess Awesome and Wonder Boy community has put together a list aptly named, the Giant List of Ideas for Being Home with Kids.
We hope these resources are helpful to you and your families. Know that Team CertifiKID is here for you now and we’ll be here when we can all get back to playing and saving TOGETHER!
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