Educate your child about COVID 19 | Sunday Observer

Educate your child about COVID 19

An outbreak of a global pandemic causes fear and concern among the public and reportedly impacts the well-being of every individual. This poses an urgent threat to both the physical welfare of individuals and the collective health of communities. The youngest of our community must be well looked after at these troubled times due to the nature of the harm that could occur to them in the future. This article briefly discusses what adults are feeling at this time of crisis and tips for caregivers and parents on how to manage COVID 19 related issues with children.

A meeting at Harvard Business Review transpired a discussion of a common feeling all of them experienced while they are in quarantine. Shockingly, they have concluded that the feeling they have had was grief. In order to understand this further, they have consulted David Kessler, an expert on grief and obtained confirmation that at present our societies are feeling “collective grief”. We are mourning the loss of the world as we know it. We are missing our loved ones. We have lost the comfort of friends, we have lost routine, and of supportive colleagues at work.

Added to these, we feel fear about our now unstable economy. We are also feeling anticipatory grief, the feeling of immense uncertainty of what the future holds. These thoughts would leave us feeling further unsafe. What is important to know about this grief is that just like any other grief there will be stages through denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and depression and finally acceptance. The ultimate goal is to reach acceptance such as the acceptance of “I know this is happening, I have to wash my hands, I have to stay inside, I have to work from home”. Such thinking will give you the power to control your feelings and thoughts at an unstable time without drowning in a negative thought spiral. In times like this our minds wander to the worst possible outcomes. This would heighten our stress and anxiety leaving us exasperated and confused.

One of the ways we can calm ourselves is by being mindful of the present. Mindfulness is not a novel concept to Sri Lankans. It is a technique heavily discussed in Buddhism, where one tries to notice present thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgment. The key is to acknowledge the thoughts we already have. We notice our thoughts and let them wander as much as possible and start focussing on what we are doing at the moment. When thoughts are overwhelming and tiring, it is difficult to focus on one thing.

A technique called grounding can be used at times like these. Grounding brings your focus to what is happening to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings, instead of being trapped by the thoughts in your mind that are causing you to feel anxious. You can use all your five senses to help you to get back to the present. Ask the questions; what are the 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can feel on your skin and 1 thing you can taste. The practice of grounding is easy to follow and is incredibly simple to teach your children. You can make cue cards for them and use them when they appear to be stressed or anxious.

It is also important to let go of things you cannot control and teach your children the same. You cannot change your neighbour but you can control staying inside and washing your hands. It would also be helpful to think of this situation as a temporary state, reassuring yourself that this will change. What is important at this time is to not let this grief spill over to your children.

How to tell your children about the situation

As adults this pandemic is stressful and exhausting. Imagine the confusion for your children that do not comprehend what is happening. They are rejoicing the fact that their parents are working from home. Their routines have changed and they do not see their friends. As a parent or caregiver if you do not inform them about what is happening in the world, a friend will. You cannot control what a friend, who is their peer, is telling them. This may lead to severe stress and anxiety for your children. The safest way to provide information to your children is through a safe person which at this moment will likely be you. The following are some tips shared by the University of Queensland Parenting and Family Support Centre.

1. Reassure your children that your family is your top priority. Talk to them about how you are trying to keep everyone safe and what your children can do to help.

2. Maintain everyday family routines. Keep to usual rising times, mealtimes, and bedtimes. Understand that every family is different. Involve children in working out any new routine (e.g., devise a daily plan of activities for school-aged children who are at home).

3. Create plenty of interesting things to do at home. Busy children are less likely to be bored and misbehave. Create a list of 20 activities that will keep them busy, together with your child. If you are using screen time make sure to have a consistent and set period for that (Ex: 60 minutes a day, in the morning).

4. Take notice of behaviour you like. Think about the values, skills, and behaviours you wish to encourage in your children at this very difficult time. There are many opportunities to teach them important life skills (e.g., being caring, helpful, cooperative, getting on well with siblings, taking turns). Use plenty of praise and positive attention to encourage these behaviours. Give them positive attention letting them know you are pleased by telling them what they have just done.

5. Make sure your child knows you are ready to talk. Children need to be able to talk to parents about their concerns and have their questions answered. When a child wants to talk about their feelings, stop what you are doing and listen carefully. Avoid telling your child how they should feel (“That’s silly. You shouldn’t be scared about that.”) Let children know it is acceptable to be worried. Talking or drawing can help children get in touch with their feelings and figure out what they are anxious about.

6. Be truthful in answering children’s questions. Find out what they know about the issue before answering. Keep answers simple. Get information from trusted sources (e.g., official government websites) rather than social media. Make sure you keep your answers age-appropriate.

7. Help children learn to tolerate more uncertainty. The COVID-19 crisis creates uncertainty for everyone. Parents need to find a way to accept uncertainty and, through your actions and words show this acceptance to your children. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know; let’s find out what we can.” Big changes to children’s lives can be hard and are often frightening. They can also create opportunities for learning new skills.

8. Take care of yourself the best you can. Deal with your distress by taking actions that give you a better sense of personal control. Keep healthy and safe (good personal hygiene, exercise daily, eat well, get enough sleep, avoid using alcohol to lessen stress). Avoid behaviour that might increase your stress. For example, while it is helpful to keep informed about COVID constant checking on your screens can increase stress. Be mindful of this and control your behaviour appropriately.

9. Reach out and connect with loved ones. Make greater use of phones, online communication tools, and social media to keep in touch with family, friends, and neighbours. Help others who are going through a tough time and more vulnerable (e.g., parents/ caregivers with disabilities, older people).

It is also important to remember that adults should not discuss their stress and anxiety in front of children. As we know, children are like sponges and they will absorb everything. Even though adults think they would not understand, they might, and hold on to things that are negative in your conversation. This can lead to severe stress for your child and could be traumatic for them.

Most children will manage well with the support of parents and other family members, even if they show signs of some anxiety or concerns, such as difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Some children, however, may have risk factors for more intense reactions, including severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal behaviours. Risk factors can include a pre-existing mental health problem, prior traumatic experiences or abuse, family instability, or the loss of a loved one. Parents and caregivers should contact a professional if children exhibit significant changes in behaviour or any of the following symptoms for more than 2 weeks.

It is important to remember that these are uncertain times and feeling confused, anxious and stressed is a normal reaction. Suppressing these feelings will not be beneficial to you or those who are around you. The key factor is moving towards acceptance and be practical and mindful about managing the situation.

(The writer is a Registered Psychotherapist/ Canadian Certified Counsellor)