Parenting Tips and Strategies
Part 1: Talking to your child about COVID-19
Children may worry about themselves, their family, and friends getting ill with COVID-19. Parents, family members, and other trusted adults can play an important role in helping children make sense of what they hear in a way that is honest, accurate, and minimizes anxiety or fear.
Consider the following: Listen, Remain calm and reassuring, Be honest and accurate.
Listen to your child. It is important that they know they have someone who will listen to them; make time for them
- Let them ask questions and talk about their feelings.
Remain calm and reassuring.
What you say and do can either increase or decrease your children's anxiety.
- Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions.
- A visually impaired child may be even more sensitive to your rate of speech, tone of voice, and volume.
- Help reframe their concerns into the appropriate perspective.
- Children may need extra attention, affection, or support with kind words
Be honest and accurate.
In the absence of factual information, children often imagine situations far worse than reality.
- Let your child's questions be your guide as to how much information to share.
- Provide facts without promoting a high level of stress.
- Offer age-appropriate explanations:
- Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should balance COVID-19 facts with appropriate reassurances that their schools and homes are safe and that adults are there to help keep them healthy and to take care of them if they do get sick. Give simple examples of the steps people take every day to stop germs and stay healthy, such as washing hands. Use language such as "adults are working hard to keep you safe."
- Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what will happen if COVID-19 comes to their school or community. They may need assistance separating reality from rumor and fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to prevent germs from spreading.
- Upper middle school and high school students are able to discuss the issue in a more in-depth (adult-like) fashion and can be referred directly to appropriate sources of COVID-19 facts. Provide honest, accurate, and factual information about the current status of COVID-19. Having such knowledge can help them feel a sense of control.
Information is rapidly changing about this new virus - to have the most correct information stay informed by accessing the CDC website .
Part 2: Eight Ways to Help Your Child Deal with COVID-19 Worries and Ongoing Stress
If you notice that your child seems worried or stressed, here are some ways to help. If you are unsure of how your child is coping, think about whether you have noticed any changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns; these can be indicators that they are experiencing a lot of worry or stress.
- Spend time together: connection is soothing.
Children need to feel safe and secure. It may seem obvious, but the first aspect of creating safety for a child is spending time together so a connection can be established. A child with stress is scared (even if they don't appear so on the outside). Simply having someone in the room can be a comfort even when there is push-back from the child. Being alone heightens fear.
- Be gentle to avoid startling child.
A stressed child can be hyper-aroused (notice everything in their environment and have a bigger than necessary reaction). Adults should speak in a gentle, low calm voice to avoid creating further stress. Just think about how you like to be spoken to when you are upset.
- Read a story or play with children when possible.
Hearing a story or playing with a loved one distracts, relaxes and calms a child. Playing feels good and is healthy for all people, at any age. But play involves so much more than a game. It involves a connection, smiling, speaking with a cheery and playful tone of voice, and movement. Even if for a little while, a moment of playfulness is good.
- Help children name their feelings.
When your child can identify their feelings, it can help calm down the nervous system. Let your child know that all feelings are okay when something scary or stressful is happening. Let children talk about their feelings and help put them into perspective. Even anger is okay, but children may need help and patience from adults to assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
We can use stories, our own personal stories or ones we create, to help children put language on their emotions. An example of a story an adult could share with a stressed child,
"When I was little, my mother went away for a long time. She was sick, so she had to go to where doctors could help her. But, I was so sad and scared. And, sometimes I even felt angry at her for going away. I learned all those feelings were natural."
Other ways to help children put language on their feelings include
- Point out how a character in a story or movie might be feeling and then ask if they have ever felt that way. An example: "I think Dorothy was scared when she woke up in a strange place. Have you ever felt scared?"
- You can help a child name their feelings with games, drawings, and puppets.
- Be aware of child's reactions to your help.
Take cues from the child for what works best. Cues that a child is positively responding include expressions of relief, smiles, a relaxed look, and a desire to play and connect more.
If what you're trying is not helping, you'll see a child's face and body demonstrate more tension, sadness, or anger, or they may not want to continue to read, play or talk.
- Offer hugs and other physical affection.
Hugging, snuggling or sitting close can help soothe a stressed child. Again, take your cues from the child. If they don't like something, don't do it. You can tell by the way the child looks and reacts if they are responding positively or negatively. If they stiffen, it's a protest. If they relax and soften, that's a green light.
- Reassure a child as best as possible and help them make sense of what's happening.
(See also separate article by CSB School Psychologists on talking to your child about COVID-19)
A little reassurance goes a long way.
Focus on this moment of this day and all that is well. Look for truthful ways you can reassure them that they are safe now and will not be alone.
- You have a house and food
- You are all well ( OR, if more relevant not that sick)
- You have other wonderful family members and friends
- Together you can go for a walk, play games or watch shows
Be explicit! Say things like, "You will be ok," "We aren't sick, we feel good," "I am here," "We are staying inside, so we can be protected" and, "Our governor, doctors, and nurses are taking great care of us."
Don't try to pretend the circumstances are not serious. Children are smart. They will be more worried if they think you are too afraid to tell them what is happening. At the same time, it will be important to tell children that while the threat is real, the chances they will be personally affected are low.
Humans are wired for connection and thrive in conditions of safety and security.
- Monitor or restrict exposure to news and events.
In particular, monitor exposure to news coverage about COVID-19 and social media. For older children, caution against accessing news coverage from only one source.
- Coping with Crisis - Helping Children With Special Needs - Tips for School Personnel and Parents (the Tips for Special Populations section may be helpful for parents)
- Mindfulness Activities/Exercises - mostly for children
- Care for Caregivers: Tips for Families and Educators
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