How to Help Children Cope During the Pandemic
A licensed psychologist shares tips, guidance and resources for parenting during the pandemic
Guest post by Gianine (Gia) Rosenblum, PhD
Licensed psychologist Gianine (Gia) Rosenblum, PhD, has served on FARE’s Outcomes Research Advisory Board and Psychosocial Issues Task Force and has been a food allergy mental health curriculum development consultant to Allergy and Asthma Network. She is active in the food allergy community and is the parent of a teenager with food allergies. FARE talked to Gia recently about anxiety amid COVID-19. Here Gia discusses parenting during the pandemic. An earlier post addressed concerns faced by all adults managing food allergy in these exceptional times.
Children (especially young children) are always looking to adults to understand how worried or distressed they should be. Children are comforted when they perceive caregivers to be emotionally calm and in control. Just as when the flight attendant reminds parents to put on their own oxygen mask before helping with their child's mask, parents must care for themselves in order to care successfully for their children. Caregivers should seek out social supports, practice daily self-care and decide on the message they want to communicate about stressful issues before sitting down and talking to children so that the messages can be delivered in a clear, calm and child-friendly way.
It is also important to keep a child’s developmental level in mind. Young children benefit from simple, direct messages about how caregivers are keeping them safe, and what children can do to be safe and healthy. This helps young children feel protected. It is appropriate for young children to rely completely on adults for their sense of safety. Older children may appreciate more facts about what is happening, with a continued emphasis on how adults are working hard to keep them and the family safe. Older children benefit from clear and simple directions on the role they can play in ensuring safety: washing hands when they return from outside, and before they eat, sneezing into a tissue or elbow, and keeping 6 feet from people they might encounter outside the immediate family are examples.
Tweens and teens may benefit from more complete factual information about current affairs. Caregivers can engage this age group’s creativity as well as their need for autonomy and independence. After educating, ask them for their suggestions for coping and what their contributions can be. For example, food-allergic older children might help conserve supplies of favorite safe foods, plan safe meals to freeze for the future, or locate mail order options for safe favorites.
In addition, children are comforted when they have structure in their lives. A young child’s daily schedule might include time for education, handwashing/hygiene practice, and mini jobs, like cleaning their rooms. This, in addition to plans for recreation and fun activities, is helpful in stabilizing young children and enhancing their coping. Older children also benefit from structure, but should have a hand in the planning. Teenagers whose schools are closed may need to adapt homeschooling or other schedules to suit their biological tendency to stay up late and sleep later. Given the challenging circumstances, allowing older children to customize schedules where possible may reduce stress.
Here are some resources for parents and caregivers supporting children during the pandemic:
- Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | How to Prepare | Manage Stress and Anxiety | For Parents (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope With the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (National Child Traumatic Network)
- Talking to Children About COVID-19: A Parent Resource (National Association of School Psychologists)
- Talking to Teens and Tweens About Coronavirus (New York Times)
- Just for Kids: A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus (National Public Radio)
- Talking With Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)