How Is Your Child Coping With COVID-19? Here’s What to Look For

By now, it’s probably sinking in for your child – and you – that coronavirus school closures and social distancing aren’t simply an extended vacation.

As we all deal with changes to daily life, it’s important to take stock of what your child actually understands about COVID-19 and recent developments, and how they’re feeling about it.

Pediatric psychologist Bradley S. Jerson, PhD, has advice.

Directly ask, “Can you tell me again why you’re not going to school and why I’m not going to work?”

This allows your child to share their most recent understanding of coronavirus, which is a very abstract concept. It gives you the opportunity to see which of their information is grounded in fact and reality, and which has been contaminated by unreliable sources or even their own fears and magical thinking.

Share what you know, and admit what you don’t.

You can fill in the gaps with up-to-date facts, based on the age of your child: Check out this article for help forming age-appropriate answers.

You should also be honest about the things you don’t know – which is a lot! Leaving the window open for ongoing questions lets your children know that you can handle their willingness to learn more amid all the uncertainty.

Invite your kids to talk with you about their thoughts and feelings.

For some kids, this is an easy task. For others, it’s harder.

Fight the temptation to tell your kids how they should be feeling right now. Instead, tune into your children’s emotions.

For example, many high school students are nervous about the effect that COVID-19 will have on the remainder of their academic year and major milestone events like proms, graduation and going to college. By making the effort to understand what’s going in their world, you have the opportunity to partner with them through these uncertain waters.

> Want help getting your family through COVID-19? Check out our School Closure Kit

Tune into any changes in behavior.

Some kids, particularly younger ones, are not going to be able to recite their thoughts and feelings to you about all of this – and that’s fine. Use your parenting superpowers to tune into changes in their behaviors, ways they interact with you or other siblings, or other personality changes. (If your child is having trouble sleeping, our pediatric sleep psychologist has solutions.)

Emotions and fears may show up as increased irritability or anger, withdrawal, or changes in appetite or sleep patterns.

When you notice behavioral changes that seem disproportionate to your child’s baseline, use it as a signal that your child may be experiencing stronger feelings than they know how to verbalize. When that happens, take a guess, out loud, about what your child might be experiencing. For example, “I’ve noticed you have been having some trouble falling asleep. I wonder if you might be feeling scared or worried about something. Things certainly have been very different lately.” Trust me, your kids will tell you when you’re wrong! Get more tips for helping your child manage difficult emotions. 

Accept your child’s emotions without judgment or criticism – and your own, too.

Allow yourself to truly understand what tangible effect this is having on your kids’ lives.

As an adult, you may be tempted to use your life experience and perspective to rank senior prom at a slightly lower level of importance than a global health crisis. But you’ll gain a lot of parenting points by acknowledging that, in fact, it does suck that your child can’t experience milestone events that they’ve been looking forward to, or even just hang out with their friends like normal.

We are capable of feeling many things at the same time: We can feel scared, worried and sad about the implication of COVID-19, and also still be disappointed that it’s interfering with some aspects of life that are important us. One does not discount the other – so accepting your child’s emotions without judgment or criticism will go a long way.

> Want tips to help your child deal with stress? Two pediatric psychologists share strategies.

Let your child know they’re not alone.

It’s actually quite helpful for parents to acknowledge to kids that they share some of their feelings and worries – without, of course, unloading their own deepest fears onto their child’s shoulders. Here are some steps you can take to manage your own stress.  

So go ahead and admit that you understand and even share some of your child’s feelings. But always remind them that you are going to continue to do everything in your power to keep them safe, and that you are going to help them learn things they can do to keep themselves and others safe too.

Questions about coronavirus? Connecticut Children’s COVID-19 hotline is open 24/7 at 1.833.226.2362.

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