As the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise, panic is mounting around the world. Our media outlets are flooded with new information, heightened warnings, and an increasingly dire prediction of how this virus may affect us all. Needless to say, it’s overwhelming. And now, as schools in the Greater Richmond area (and around the nation) start to close their doors, many of us are worried not only about how we will manage this unexpected disruption to our schedules, but also how it will affect our children.
The simple fact is that this is a stressful time for us as parents, because we worry about our children’s health, but also about their overall sense of safety and security. (Never mind the daunting prospect of having kids home in a quarantine scenario while many of us attempt to work remotely.) As we get ready to face an as yet unknown period of time at home with our kids, there are certain things we can do to help alleviate these stresses, both for our children and for ourselves.
First, it’s important that we talk with our kids about what’s happening – and why. Secondly, like most things in life, having a plan in place will help provide a sense of stability and security for our entire family in an otherwise uncertain time
Talking to Kids About COVID-19
Depending on your children’s ages and access to media, they may already be up-to-date on what’s happening around the world. However, don’t assume that knowledge equals understanding. There’s a lot of less-than-reliable information out there and between social media, sensational news stories, and school/friend “chatter,” the facts often get jumbled, resulting in a game of “telephone” in which the truth becomes a nonsensical string of words by the time it reaches your kids’ ears.
So here are a few ways that you can help your children understand what’s going on, and help them maintain their sense of safety:
Give them the facts in way they will understand
Regardless of your children’s ages, explain what’s going on. For younger children, it can be as simple as explaining that COVID-19 is like having the flu or a cold and that we are all working together to make sure no one else gets sick. Older children will be able to understand more, so use a trusted source (i.e., make sure you have YOUR facts straight) to help them understand in as much detail as they might want and answer any questions they might have. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) offers some great resources for educating yourself and learning best practices for managing COVID-19.
As for explaining why they may have an unexpected “vacation” from school, help them understand that we are all working together to stay healthy. As part of this, we are practicing “social distancing” – or doing our part to limit interaction with people who might be sick and to make sure we don’t spread any germs ourselves.
Make sure they feel safe
There is no question that this is a scary time for all of us. However, experts have determined that children are at a lower risk of infection than adults. As long as your child does not have existing medical issues or an otherwise compromised immune system, they should be ok. Remind them that there are incredible medical and science professionals working on COVID-19 at this very moment, and already improvements are being made. Also, remind them that we are fortunate to have medicine and doctors to help us should we feel sick.
Remember your anxiety will affect their anxiety, as well
As much as you may want to go into full freak-out mode and put your whole family in a sterilized bubble, remember that kids are more in tune to your moods and anxiety levels than you realize. The more panicked and stressed out you are, they more they will operate on the same level. Be calm and rationale when talking to them and offer simple explanations of any preventative measures you take.
Likewise, keep in mind that kids hear everything. If you and another adult are going to be discussing COVID-19, make sure that you choose your words carefully if kids are present.
Use this as an opportunity to reinforce positive health habits
COVID-19 spreads much in the same way as the common cold or flu. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they release “respiratory droplets” that can then be contracted by someone in close proximity who may breathe in the infected droplets through their mouth or nose. It is also possible that COVID-19 can be spread by touching an infected surface then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes. And while most of us having been teaching our kids to wash their hands and “catch” their coughs and sneezes (in a tissue or sleeve – NOT with their hands!) since they were small, now is the time to up the ante and reinforce those good habits more than ever.
Basically, the same things we do to prevent spreading colds and the flu are the same things we need to be doing now. Check out our guide for How to Prevent Your Child From Getting (or Spreading) Cold and Flu This Winter for some helpful tips.
School Closings and Quarantine
Now that we’ve covered the basics of talking to kids about COVID-19, it’s time to get to the really scary stuff – managing kids at home for an unknown period of time while possibly trying to work ourselves. As of right now, schools throughout Virginia have announced closings for the remainder of the year and we are under stay-at-home directives through June 10, 2020.
And while it’s one thing to have a school break that’s planned for – spring or winter break, for example – something that sneaks up on us like this can prove more than stressful. Assuming you are able to work from home or otherwise remain home during school closings, here are some ways you can plan ahead:
Keep your schedule as close to “normal” as possible
Kids thrive on routine. While a break from school may feel like a tempting opportunity to sleep late and stay in jammies, try to keep your schedule on track. Stick to wake up times, meal times, and bedtimes. Not only will this help give a sense of familiarity to an otherwise unfamiliar situation, but it will also help make sure everyone gets plenty of rest and feels grounded.
Depending on your kids’ ages and your school’s capabilities, there may be schoolwork to do remotely. Be sure to set aside time and space for schoolwork on a regular basis. For younger kids or those who don’t have schoolwork, set up an “at home” schedule that might reflect a day at school, including time for quiet time, play, reading, or chores. In fact, speaking of chores, if you don’t already have a chore chart in place, this is a great time to start!
Don’t be afraid to get outside
When looking for the positive in this situation, we can all be thankful that the COVID-19 crisis did not hit us at the height of winter. In fact, we’ve had some unseasonably warm weather lately – so make the most of it. Take a walk, do some yard work, or just let your kids play in the yard. Fortunately, “quarantine” does not mean sitting holed up in a windowless bunker, and honestly, the fresh air will do us all some good.
Don’t forget to have some fun
This might seem like a ridiculous thing to say to already stressed parents facing a forced “vacation” at home with kids who, at the very least, have spring fever. But every cloud has a silver lining. Yes, a schedule is a good thing, but there’s no need to run your house like a prison camp. Build in time for fun. Play games, watch movies, and make some memories along the way. Need some ideas? Check out our Cabin Fever Survival Guide for ideas by age and interest.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of medical professionals around the world, we can be hopeful that the COVID-19 crisis will soon be behind us. The last thing we want to do is look back and only remember misery. After all, things like this help us to to stop and appreciate the things that are truly important – namely, our loved ones. Make sure that when this is all over, you can look back and be grateful for the moments you had with your family.
Go easy on one another
Keep in mind that this is not easy for anyone – and there will very likely be some long days ahead. Now, more than ever, is the time to show a little grace, to ourselves and our kids. If your kids are acting out, be patient and try to understand what’s going on underneath the external expressions. Maybe they’re scared. Perhaps they’re bored. Or maybe they just have some pent up energy. Do your best to address these concerns without losing your own cool.
Most importantly, find ways to let off steam, whether it’s taking a family walk, having a dance party with the music cranked up, or watching a favorite family movie. Just remind everyone in your house that this is a team effort and we’re all in it together!
Practice self-care…however it looks
It’s also important to maintain your own self-care during this time. If you’re trying to work from home, set aside time that your kids can have quiet time so that you can work. This might mean a little extra screen time for them. Or maybe you set up “work” hours so where they can do school work, read, or play quietly in their rooms. Take a bath. Add bubbles. Relax. Read a good book. Talk to friends on the phone. Whatever you need to do, just remember that the more you manage your own stress, the better you’ll be able to manage your family’s stress.
All in all, we’re in for some long days, weeks, or possibly even months. It’s going to take some work and a whole lot of perspective. But as long as we go about it carefully, we’ll come out fine on the other side. Just remember to be smart, keep communicating with your kids, and enjoy every special moment that comes along.