Children can be silent worriers. They might say they are OK when asked, but most parents instinctively know when something is just not right. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the world, the news cycles and everyone's conversations, children observed and listened and maybe started to worry—about themselves, perhaps, but also about grandparents and family and friends who might get sick.
As the school year starts again—a school year that will, no matter how attended—will look and feel different than school years past, the worry might kick into overdrive. So now is a great time, as parents or teachers or trusted adults, to talk with children and help them understand what they are hearing to reduce their anxieties.
Talking to children about any difficult subject is a tall order, but it's even more difficult when it's a subject like COVID-19, when new information and facts. But that makes it even more important. So here are some practical tips for talking with children, endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).
Talking to children about COVID-19 (and other difficult subjects)
- Stay calm. Children are keenly aware of your body language and voice. They don't just hear your words; they absorb how you say it. A calm voice and confident manner help keep them reassured.
- Let them know they are safe. While assuring them that you are doing everything you can to keep them safe, also tell them it's normal to feel stressed or upset. Tell them what you do to ease your stress—listen to music, go for a walk—and offer to share those activities with them.
- Always be available to listen and talk with your children. Let them know they can come to you when they are anxious or have questions.
- Avoid negative language that blames others. At the same time, pay attention to what your children are seeing and hearing on TV or online. If too much exposure is increasing anxiety, limit the screen time.
- Provide accurate and truthful information. Use words and examples that are appropriate for your child's age and development level. Older children may be active on the internet or social media. Let them know, and be aware yourself, that some of the stories about COVID-19 on the internet are rumors or simply inaccurate. Your child's worry might be caused by something that is not true.
- Teach your children what they can do every day to protect themselves and friends and family from COVID-19. Wash hands often. Socially distance and avoid close contact. Wear a mask around others. Clean and disinfect surfaces in your home daily. Monitor your health by checking temperatures and symptoms. Model these behaviors yourself to your children.
- If your children are attending school in person, discuss and review the importance of the actions the school is taking to keep them safe.
Anxiety or depression about COVID-19
If your child's anxiety or depression about COVID-19 seems to impacting their ability to participate in everyday tasks—such as performing school work, joining the family for meals, or maintaining a healthy sleep schedule—or if your child begins to demonstrate mood changes, self-harming behaviors or low self-esteem, you may want to seek counseling for your child.
- Augusta Health's Outpatient Behavioral Health Counseling Center provides services for adolescents 12 years of age and older.
Contact Andrea Kendall, LCSW at (540) 213-2525 for information or to schedule.
- Valley Community Services Board (VCSB) can provide counseling for all ages.
Call (540) 887-3200 for information or to schedule with VCSB.
If you suspect your child has COVID-19
Call your child's doctor for instructions, and mention your concerns, before taking the child for care.
- Augusta Health's Respiratory Assessment Center can provide assessment and treatment of symptoms, and COVID testing when needed. For children, please call your pediatrician FIRST to ensure your child has the care needed with the least exposure.
COVID-19 Respiratory Assessment Center
201 Lew Dewitt Blvd, Waynesboro
Open Everyday: 8 am – 7 pm
Walk-in and screening at front door