As the constant stream of Covid-19 news is getting increasingly overwhelming and stressful, parents who find their kids at home because of the closed schools have two important tasks: communicating about the virus with their children, and engaging them productively at home.
Children are hearing about the coronavirus cases from media and people around them as much as the adults are, and they see parents in distress and confusion about dealing with this unprecedented situation. Because of this, children may find their heads full of questions related to the virus and the outbreak. And with no one else in their immediate surrounding, they frequently turn to their parents to clear up these queries. In a situation like this one, it is important for the parents to answer their questions and address their worries.
The Harvard Health blog suggests that parents should provide just enough information about the virus, should model calmness, and limit news exposure on the coronavirus. Parents should take care to answer the questions children have, but not give too much information as it may add to their anxiety. Children can imagine elaborately and it is important to keep the information they receive clear, concise, and presented in a way they understand.
Several websites and blogs offer help in communicating with children, according to age groups. Some of the most important suggestions include:
- When a person sneezes or coughs, the virus can come out of their body into the air and enter other people’s body. So it is necessary to maintain a distance of six feet with people other than your family members.
- You should sneeze or cough into your handkerchief, tissue, or into your elbow. If everyone does this, then the virus from sick people cannot get into other person’s body.
- It is important to sanitize your hands or wash them with soap and water regularly to stop the virus from entering your body. You can sing ‘Sayaun thunga phoolka haami’ or ‘Happy Birthday to you’ (or any of your favorite song for at least 20 seconds) while washing hands with soap and water.
- Don’t worry! Virus cannot enter your body if you practice good health behaviors (discussed above) and so it cannot harm you.
Besides answering children’s questions appropriately, parents should remain calm themselves as children model them. Children also imitate adult response to issues so parents should avoid reading the news on corona when children are around to avoid anxious encounters. If a child is repeatedly asking questions about coronavirus, it might be an indication of anxiety and reassurance seeking behavior. Parents should calmly listen to their questions, no matter how many times, and could repeat the above responses in their own words. Seeking help from therapists, when available, can be helpful.
Besides keeping children safe and aware of the situation regarding corona, it is also important to engage them at home, particularly when going out is not an option. Children want to be useful and they love being involved in chores, so giving them responsibility for things they can do is a great way not just to keep them engaged but also to make them feel valued and useful. For example, parents can ask children to invite family members for food, help in preparing and serving food, doing dishes, cleaning and decorating the house, and help in gardening (e.g. carrying things, watering plants). Parents with access to internet can also locate online engagement opportunities like story-telling sessions, art sessions, music lessons, to name a few I have come across through social media.
Playing games can be a great option not only to engage children but also adults. Neuroscience research shows that when individuals, regardless of age, engage in play their bodies release ‘feel good’ hormones like endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These hormones are linked to reduced stress and improved mood, which can help everyone cope with this pandemic better.
Spending time with children (through play or involvement in doing chores) also has long-term benefits. Research shows that when parents and children spend time together, children build self-esteem, cultivate positive behaviors, develop comfort around parents to share any problems they might be facing, and increase help seeking behavior. Spending time together also strengthens family bonds and facilitates communication.
Hence not all is grim about the current state of affairs caused by Covid-19; it can be an opportunity to take a break from the fast paced lives we lead, breath deeply, and foster family relationships; engaging with children can create ample opportunities for the same.
The author is a PhD Scholar in Social Work at Boston College, USA. He holds a Masters in Social Work with Families and Children