Coronavirus and your child’s mental health

By Brittany Farrar on 1st Apr 2020

These are crazy times; no other way to say it. With the school closures and never-ending disruption to daily schedules, you can expect children of any age to have questions and to be scared or frustrated. And you likely are in the same boat.

So, how much do you tell your kids about coronavirus (COVID-19), and what the rest of their school year looks like? Things are changing almost hourly, so here’s a broad list of tips you can refer to as needed this month.

Remain calm
This is a tough one, but likely the most important. Even babies can sense your stress and anxiety, so remaining calm and reassuring is crucial. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends talking to your kids (you know their comfort level) and listening to their questions and concerns. As things are changing daily, you may find the answers that were right yesterday are wrong today.

Your school-aged kids now have worries about school, sports, activities and friends. Talk to them about their concerns and brainstorm ideas about how you can keep their spirits up. Maybe it’s FaceTiming with a different friend every day, family walks, runs with the family dog and texting with teachers for homework help. Trying to maintain as much normal behavior is best. While they may not be sitting in a class with 20 other kids, they can talk or video chat. Instead of soccer practice, they can run around the backyard with you, their siblings or pets.

Retain a schedule
Because this outbreak fell so close to spring break for most school districts in our area, it’s easy to see it as a really extended school holiday. It’s also so tempting to let your teenager sleep until noon instead of the normal fight to get him on the bus. But if you keep to your regular routine, as much as you can, your children will feel more comfortable with the new normal. If your school isn’t providing online learning options yet, encourage your kids to wake up at a reasonable time read, draw, take practice SATs or ACTs, get outside and still eat regular meals. According to the Child Mind Institute, structured days with mealtime and bedtimes are crucial to keeping your children healthy and happy.

Reason with them… especially teenagers
Your teens or preteens who are on social media may see their peers still getting together to play, hang out or even have sleepovers. If you’ve decided your household will stay home, your kids are likely upset with you. Maybe loosening restrictions on FaceTime, texting and phone calls, so they can stay in touch with the friends will help ease the isolation. Some streaming services like Netflix, have applications that allow users to watch shows together. Encourage them to keep in touch – just not in-person.

Be honest, but not scary
Kids have extreme imaginations at times, and in the absence of real information, their imaginations run wild. Again, you know the emotional maturity of your child more than anyone. What he can handle, his brother may cannot, so you need to make the decision on how to best share information with them. Remind them that doctors, nurses and other leaders are making decisions to keep everyone healthy; and while it’s an inconvenience now, hopefully, we will be through this in a few months.

Brittany Farrar is the regional director of Middle Tennessee programs and Tennessee Specialized Crisis Services for Youth Villages. Crisis services are still available 24/7 if your child needs support. Youth Villages is available and prepared to assist your family during the time. Call 855-CRISIS-1 or text CONNECT to 741741. Visit CDC or Child Mind Institute for more resources.

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