Responding to a pandemic: Tips on helping children understand the coronavirus threat

Responding to a pandemic: Tips on helping children understand the coronavirus threat

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Dana Miller

Dana Miller

CEDAR FALLS — The Central River Area Education Agency is offering tips on how to help children make sense of the coronavirus threat.

Central Rivers AEA school psychologist Dr. Dana Miller offers a number of tips for parents as we navigate this challenging time.

“First, we all need to take a breath and recognize that we are doing the best we can,” said Miller. “This is new territory for all of us, and no one has all the answers. Children take their cue from parents during traumatic events so the calmer we can stay, the better off our kids will be.”

Miller offers other tips as well, including the following:

  • It is important to be reassuring and honest when children express questions or concerns. Answer their questions in a factual, but developmentally appropriate manner. They may not understand why they are out of school, not allowed to play at the park or with friends. Sharing that there is a virus and that limiting exposure to other people and places will help keep them healthy is a good place to start. Note that when there are a lot of unknowns children tend to fill in the blanks themselves. The stories they may tell themselves are often much worse than what is actually happening.
  • Check in with your children, ask them how they feel. Validate that it is ‘OK’ to feel whatever they feel. Share with them that they are not alone in having that feeling.
  • Make sure they know who they can talk to when feeling upset.
  • Monitor and limit exposure to the television and social media. This may result in increased anxiety and worry. If your child is getting information via the internet and/or social media share with them that there is often misinformation shared.
  • In a time when there are so many things they cannot control, focus on what they can control throughout the day. Washing hands, staying home, etc.
  • If your child is missing their friends, set up a virtual play date, write them a letter or send them an email.
  • Plan activities with your child, making dinner, crafting, reading, whatever you and your child enjoy doing.
  • Children will need reassurance, this means that they frequently engage in behaviors to get your attention. Having a routine in place and frequent check in will help.
  • Let your children know you are prepared to keep them safe.
  • Plan your day with your child so they know what to expect.

For parents/caregivers:

  • Take time for yourself. Self-care is important, especially in times of increased stress. Read, take a walk, dance, calm breathing; do whatever works best for you to unwind.
  • Remember that you do not have to be the perfect parent and educator. Academics are important, yes, but it is more important that we are tending to the social and emotional needs of the family. Children need to feel loved, reassured, and safe. If you are doing that, you are doing a great job.
  • We are all in this together. Do not be afraid to reach out to your friends.
  • Ask for help.

Dr. Dana Miller is a school psychologist with Central Rivers AEA.


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