It is difficult to talk to adults about what is going on in the world right now, let alone have to talk to our children. As adults, COVID-19 has disrupted our lives in measurable ways, but for our children, many of the ways they are being affected is not seen to the naked eye. Therefore, we as your school counselors have put together some talking points for your family to reference as we go through the next few weeks.
We will be available to our families during this shift to virtual learning, so please do not hesitate to reach us via email:
- For families in grades K1-3 you can reach Ashley Harding at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For families in grades 4-8, you can reach Annie Barocas at email@example.com.
For Younger Children:
- Comfort Your Child: Routines, routines, routines. This is pertinent with this age group and the best way to provide comfort when they are unsure of why comfort is needed. Trying to be consistent in things like bedtime, even though it may feel like a vacation, will help them find comfort in this abrupt change. Validate your child’s feelings and answer questions that they may bring up. At this age their perspective is very narrow, and they will likely only discuss things that are at the forefront of their minds, meaning if they aren’t talking about it, they aren’t thinking about it. For your own comfort, give the extra cuddles or the time just being together as a family. Children pick up on the anxieties of the adults around them, so keeping yourself calm will ultimately comfort your child.
- Be Honest About What You Know: At the age, the adults need to be the filter of what information children are receiving. A three or four year old may want to know why school is online now or why they can’t go on that planned family vacation. You can be very vague at this age, with a simple response that does not provide too much detail. Share with your children that some people are sick, and that it is normal for people to get sick. “People who are sick need to go to the doctor,” or “we need to wash our hands so we don’t get sick and have to stay in bed,” should suffice. For our five and six year old, they may be more anxious and aware. To them, I would let them ask questions but don’t elaborate. Reminding them what they can control, such as washing their hands, is being honest with them about how they can help the situation we are dealing with.
For Elementary Children:
- Comfort Your Child. You know your children thrive in routine and in having answers. With so many changes to their day to day lives they will be seeking comfort and control. Try to create a routine as best as possible, beyond just the online lessons that your children will be partaking in. Maybe it’s morning cooking together or an afternoon art project. Give them things to look forward to and things they can expect to happen. Reassure your child, not by sharing statistics and data but rather by sharing what you are doing as a family to stay healthy - That could be staying home from school or work, washing hands and sanitizing things more regularly, or going to the doctor if you don’t feel well. All of these things are being done to keep them safe, and they need to be able to grasp these tangible answers.
- Be Honest About What You Know: For elementary age children this means to validate how your child is feeling, whether that is fearful, excited, angry, or sad. Any emotion is justified in this situation. At the same time, let them know that you do not have all the answers. There are people who are working hard to find out the answers and take care of those people who are getting sick. You can allow your child to see some of your vulnerability or the vulnerability of others, but at the same time, we recommend that if you do let your child browse the internet or watch the news, do it with them so you can monitor and also explain what they are seeing.
For Middle School Children:
- Comfort Your Child: For older children, who may not express their need for comfort, offer it as much as possible. Be a listener. Let them express their fears, concerns, and anger without necessarily responding with an answer. They need to feel safe, whether that is through touch, active listening, or just being in each others’ presence. Find a funny movie to watch. Play games that they used to love when they were younger. At the same time, routine will help get through the next few weeks. You can create a family schedule and post it on the wall with school day requirements but also fun leisure activities. The more a child can know what to expect, which can be applied to us as adults too, the less anxiety and panic they have at a time like this.
- Be Honest About What You Know. There is a difference between honesty and provoking unnecessary fear. Middle Schoolers are very aware of what is going on, but at the same time they still have an innocence and feeling of naivety that requires you as the adult in their lives to screen them from too much news. Be mindful and engaged in what your child is watching or talking about with peers. Misinformation spread quickly with this age group. Let your child come to you with questions rather than supplying them with more to think about.