Kathy Quance, M.S., C.C.L.S

Over the past weeks, lives have been turned upside down as we face the COVID-19 outbreak. Closures of schools, stores and restaurants, cancellations of events and shortages of essential items have left many feeling stressed and anxious.

While everyone has experienced a disruption in daily life, there is one group that is experiencing this on a whole different level – our children.

“Times like this can feel like chaos and that can be overwhelming, especially for kids,” says Kathy Quance, M.S., C.C.L.S, senior counselor for community counselling at Empath Health.

Quance regularly works with children and families who have experienced unexpected loss and knows how impactful disturbances to the norm can be. To help navigate these challenging times, she offers this advice for families:

Stick to the schedule. Normally, kids have a routine of getting ready for school, going to school, and then after school/evening activities. With closures of schools and groups such as youth sports, the stability of these patterns has been disrupted.

“Kids need structure and expectations. We don’t want to take it to an extreme, but structure can be positive for children. It’s like a hug. It gives them comfort,” says Quance. “Try to keep schedules as much the same as possible.”

Around this house, give kids age-appropriate jobs to do, such as setting the table or picking up toys. Let them know these jobs are important while we are all spending more time at home.

Be on the lookout for signs of anxiety. Children may not tell you they have feelings of anxiety or may not know how to verbally express the feeling.

  • Anxiety can manifest in physical ways: tummy ache, headache, sore throat
  • Behavior changes can also indicate stress: insomnia, moodiness, lack of concentration, acting out/anger

If you notice possible signs of stress, offer reassurance and healthy ways to let out thoughts and feelings.

“Kids often think they cause things to happen. Maybe they were mean to a sibling and now they may think this is the result,” adds Quance. “Reassure them that this is no one’s fault. Sickness happens and we can take steps to protect ourselves and others.”

Explain to kids why we are doing these things. It is important for them to understand that while this is a serious issue, we can take steps to keep ourselves and those around us healthy.

  • Use age-appropriate language when talking with kids about the virus. It’s okay to describe it as “a bad cold” to younger children, while also explaining that the precautions we take are to protect people who get sick easily.
  • Show kids how to properly cover a cough or sneeze and how to wash their hands – and then model that behavior yourself.
  • Comparing safety precautions to things kids already know, such as car seatbelts, can help add perspective.

Give kids an outlet for their feelings. This can be as simple as asking them what they are feeling or creating time for play.

  • Try yoga as a family. Many schools have been incorporating yoga into their lesson plans. You can ask your child to lead if they know how. If not, there are many videos available online that you can try together, even if it is just for 10 minutes.
  • Outside activities such as taking a walk around the block as a family or unstructured, creative play in the backyard can be positive ways to let go of anxious feelings.
  • Video games, in moderation, can be helpful for some children. Be mindful of what types of games your child chooses to play, however. Lighthearted games or sports games are the best options. Anything too violent can heighten stress and anxiety.

Validate the disappointment that comes with cancelled activities. High school students may be upset they can’t attend prom or walk in a graduation ceremony. Calling off birthday parties, play dates or other events can be devastating to all members of the family.

  • It’s okay to share that you are also feeling frustrated and disappointed about missing these activities.
  • Writing disappointments down on a piece of paper and then tearing it up or safely burning it in a fire pit can be a therapeutic way to help the whole family let go of those feelings.

Limit exposure to the media. It’s okay to watch a little bit of news coverage here and there, but do not leave the television on all day or constantly check your phone. Children will pick up on your behavior and may think that if you are very worried, they should be too. When you do watch the news, watch it with your child so you can explain what is happening and can answer any questions they may have.

Stay in touch with family and friends. There are many technology options for available to us today from texting to video calling – or choose to send snail mail! Writing a letter to grandparents or being pen pals with a friend from school can add a new dimension to keeping in touch.

Reconnect as a family. As a society we’ve grown accustomed to busy days full of endless activities. When was the last time you had a family dinner where you focused on each other? It may feel like life has been put on hold, but you can still make the most of it by taking time to be a family.

  • Ask children to help meal plan for the week with items that you already have on hand. Cook and bake together and then enjoy the meal as family at the dinner table.
  • Take turns picking movies to watch as a family a couple nights a week.
  • Play a board game together. Being competitive has the added benefit of reducing stress.

To Those We Serve:

Empath Health is dedicated to protecting the safety of our patients, employees, volunteers and care partners. Learn more about how we are addressing COVID-19 concerns.