While it may seem like a lifetime ago, March 11, 2020 is the date the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic (CBC News, April 11,2020). Since then, Albertans lives have changed dramatically and we have all been in a constant state of adaptation-to new rules, new circumstances and a new normal.
Children and youth have been hit particularly hard by these changes. While naturally resilient, children are especially vulnerable right now. Changing routines, family dynamics, job loss and social isolation affect us all. Without adults even realizing it, children are watching them and noticing how we are dealing with this new set of circumstances. Even in the best of situations, it is normal for children to experience feelings of loss, confusion and fear. The role of parents and caregivers is to help them with those big feelings and questions–but how?
Start asking questions
While adults are constantly talking about the changing landscape and effects of COVID-19, watching the news for the latest updates and talking to friends about the pandemic on social media, children are equally overwhelmed with information. It’s important you ask children what they know, what they want to know and what their worries are. Not only does this give parents a starting point for discussion with their children, it allows them the opportunity to dispel any myths their child may have been exposed to and a chance to understand how this pandemic is impacting their mental health (Talking To Kids About COVID-19, n.d.).
This is the time to ensure your child has accurate, age appropriate information. Answer all their questions calmly, reassuringly and honestly. Correct any misunderstandings and use this as an opportunity to research the answers together (Alberta Health Services, n.d.). Help them to think realistically about the risk and make sure to only share facts from local health agencies such as the Government of Alberta, Alberta Health Services or the World Health Organization. While the latest sensational news from your uncle’s Facebook feed might spark discussion online, it is not always the right information to share with your children. Be mindful of what pandemic news they come into contact with.
Be real. Be realistic.
Maybe your child is worried about the health of a family member, about missing out on the spring soccer season or that they can catch COVID-19 while riding their bike. It’s okay not to have all the answers. Validate any concerns your child may have and answer their questions as best as you can with information from reputable sources (Alberta Health Services, n.d.). Being honest with your child is an opportunity to build trust, letting them know they are not alone and you are having many of the same feelings they are.
If your child is worried or scared, reassure them it’s okay! Don’t disregard their feelings. Being a bit worried is actually completely normal and healthy. Worry is what often motivates us all to follow the recommended precautions seriously, like washing our hands and physical distancing, which keeps us all safe (Talking to Kids about COVID-19, n.d.).
Check in with your kids on a daily basis by asking them ‘How are you today? How can I help you?” Keep in mind feelings can change day to day, hour by hour (Alberta Health Services, n.d.). Checking in keeps you connected and let’s children know you care.
Give children some control
Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19. Our routines are non-existent and expectations on both adults and children are changing on a daily basis. This loss of routine and control is especially hard for many children. If possible, set a schedule that your children can count on or even one or two things that they can expect and look forward to happen every day. Maybe it’s dinner with the family or stories at bed time. Consistency helps many children mange their day and know what is coming next (Talking To Kids About COVID-19, n.d.).
Where it’s possible, have your child give you input on the activities they want to do. From schoolwork, outside activities or how and when to connect with friends, talk to your child and see what their preferences are. Maybe it’s something as little as what time they do their school work or when they have a snack. In an interview with the Alberta Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Denise Milne, Executive Director of CASA Child and Family Mental Health says that allowing your child to have some say in how their day plays out shows them that you value their ideas and preferences.
Every person is having their own, unique pandemic experience. Regardless of the challenges your family might be facing right now, during those inevitable dark times it might be helpful to focus on what your family is thankful for. The sun outside, the ability to go for a walk or bike ride with your family, being able to chat online with friends, being physically healthy, a good meal or a hot bath are all things worth celebrating. Asking children on a daily basis what they are thankful for will help them to focus on all the positive things surrounding them. Denise indicates that this will build resiliency and the ability to recognize there is still a lot to be happy about.
Children are like sponges, absorbing and reacting to the environment around them. Parents need to be aware of what their children are exposed to and help them navigate all the information surrounding COVID-19. Each child has their own unique set of circumstances that have come as a result of social distancing. We can’t expect kids to understand all the reasons for our new normal. We can’t expect them to be happy about staying at home and not seeing friends. What we can do as parents and caregivers is to help them navigate all the information in a healthy way, acknowledge their feelings (both good and bad) and give them hope for the future. Asking questions, listening to your child, validating their concerns and staying positive are the most important things we can do to build resiliency in our children during this unique time in our history.
If you or a loved one is experiencing mental health distress during this time, please call 211 (Alberta only) or the Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642.
- Mental Health: Coping and Connection for Children & Families During COVID-19. (n.d.) Alberta Health Services. Retrieved from: https://albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/amh/if-amh-mhpip-disaster-pandemic-coping-for-children-families.pdf
- Paediatric Society. (n.d.). How can we talk to kids about COVID-19? Be “realistically reassuring”: Canadian Paediatric Society. Retrieved from: https://www.cps.ca/en/blog-blogue/how-can-we-talk-to-kids-about-covid-19
- Talking To Kids About COVID-19. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.anxietycanada.com/articles/talking-to-kids-about-covid-19/
- What’s happened in Canada since WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic | CBC News. (2020, April 11). Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/covid-19-timeline-canada-who-pandemic-1.5529920