Social distancing does not mean emotional distancing: Providing comfort during these trying times
By Jean Rhodes
How should parents, mentors, and other caring adults talk to children and adolescents about the growing COVID-19 pandemic? As a mentor, it is certainly appropriate to acknowledge some level concern, and to provide age-appropriate, accurate information that encourages actions that reduce the risk of exposure. But, if children see adults as overly worried, they are likely to feel even more distressed. Calm reassurance is needed–and mentors should reach out to their mentees (by phone, video, text, or whatever their program recommends) and be a steady source of comfort and conversation about their concerns. To help steer this conversation, a slightly adapted version of the National Association of School Psychologists guidelines are likely to be useful to parents and mentors alike:
Remain calm and reassuring.
- Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions.
- What you say and do about COVID-19, current prevention efforts, and related events can either increase or decrease your children’s anxiety.
- Remind them that you and the adults in their lives are there to keep them safe and healthy.
- Let your children talk about their feelings and help reframe their concerns into the appropriate perspective.
Make yourself available.
- Children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions.
- It is important that they know they have someone who will listen to them; make time for them.
- Tell them you care about them and give them plenty of affection.
Avoid excessive blaming.
- When tensions are high, sometimes we try to blame someone. It is important to avoid stereotyping any one group of people as responsible for the virus.
- Be aware of any comments that other adults are having. You may have to explain what comments mean.
Monitor television viewing and social media.
- Speak about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.
- Talk to your child [or mentee] about factual information of this disease—this can help reduce anxiety.
- Constantly watching updates on the status of COVID-19 can increase anxiety—avoid this.
- Be aware that developmentally inappropriate information (i.e., information designed for adults) can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young
- Engage your child in games or other interesting activities instead.
Maintain a normal routine to the extent possible.
- Keep to a regular schedule, as this can be reassuring and promotes physical health.
- Encourage your children [or mentees] to keep up with their schoolwork, but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
Be honest and accurate.
- In the absence of factual information, children often imagine situations far worse than reality.
- Don’t ignore their concerns, but rather explain that at the present moment very few people in this country are sick with COVID-19.
- Children can be told this disease is thought to be spread between people who are in close contact with one another—when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- It is also thought it can be spread when you touch an infected surface or object, which is why it is so important to protect yourself.
- For additional factual information contact your school nurse, ask your doctor, or check the https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html website.
Take Time to Talk
| Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. However, don’t avoid giving them the information that health experts identify as critical to ensuring your children’s health. Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their concerns readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. It is very typical for younger children to ask a few questions, return to playing, then come back to ask more questions.When sharing information, it is important make sure to provide facts without promoting a high level of stress, remind children that adults are working to address this concern, and give children actions they can take to protect themselves.
Information is rapidly changing about this new virus—to have the most correct information stay informed by accessing https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
Keep Explanations Age Appropriate
Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children
o Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
o Stay home when you are sick.
o Cover your cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
o Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
o Wash hands often with soap and water (20 seconds).
o If you don’t have soap, use hand sanitizer (60–95% alcohol based).
o Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Talking With Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Talking-With-Children-Tips-for-Caregivers-Parents-and-Teachers-During-Infectious-Disease-Outbreaks/SMA14-4886
Coping With Stress During Infectious Disease Outbreaks, https://store.samhsa.gov/product/Coping-with-Stress-During-Infectious-Disease-Outbreaks/sma14-4885
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html
Handwashing and Hand Sanitizer Use at Home, at Play, and Out and About, https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/pdf/hand-sanitizer-factsheet.pdf
For more information related to schools and physical and mental health, visit www.nasponline.org and www.nasn.org.
© 2020, National Association of School Psychologists, 4340 East West Highway, Suite 402, Bethesda, MD 20814, 301-657-0270