Calming Their Fears

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IT’S IMPORTANT FOR PARENTS TO PUT KIDS AT EASE WHEN IT COMES TO CORONAVIRUS

The best way for parents to combat this anxious time is to enjoy some silly time.

“Playing with your kid is one of the best things you can do right now — for them and for you,” said Melanie Trimble, a Columbia-based drama therapist and former trauma specialist.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has closed schools, postponed festive events and limited large gatherings. With families spending more time inside their homes, Trimble said a great way to relieve the COVID-19 anxiety — and have good conversations about the virus — is to make sure to have fun with your children.

Get on the floor, she said. Be silly. Laugh. Talk in silly voices. Make puppets act goofy. Put away your phone.

All the action will help relieve the tension and help children and parents calm down.

Play time will likely put children at ease and allow them to have honest dialogue because play is their natural way of conversing, Trimble said.

“Your playfulness will reassure them, and they will bond with you and their anxiety will settle down,” she said.

Dr. Maria Malcolm, a psychologist on Hilton Head Island, said it is important to maintain a normal schedule while the family is cooped up in the house.

Malcolm recommends that everyone gets up, gets dressed and eats meals at regular times each day, and that schoolwork gets done as if it was a regular school day.

Setting aside time for activities is also important: exercise, board games, cooking together or FaceTime with elderly family members to keep their spirits up.

“It is meaningful for kids, teens and adults to feel they are helping others during this trying time,” she said.

Malcolm said a starting point when talking to children about the coronavirus is to assure them that they are loved and will be protected by their family. 

“We can let our children know that we have lived through challenging times before in the Lowcountry, such as Hurricane Matthew, and have come out on the other side,” Malcolm said. “It will be important to strike a balance between taking this situation seriously and letting them know that we have measures to follow that will keep our community healthy.” 

Malcolm said parents can use this time to teach, in an age-appropriate manner, how viruses are spread, how proper hand washing kills viruses, and how far away is a safe distance to prevent infection. 

Parents should remind their children to cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbows, and then throw the tissue into the trash, the CDC said. 

Trimble said if your child is anxious, it is OK to acknowledge their fear, but parents should assure them that “the grownups are working together to make sure we know what to do and that we’re changing how we are living right now to be as safe as we can be.” 

Malcolm said even though the outbreak might be disruptive, there is a potential bright side. 

“The silver lining of this experience is the time we will be spending with our loved ones, much more than we ever would have predicted,” Malcolm said. “In a sea of worry and unpredictability, that family time is something to cherish.” 

Under Quarantine4     TIPS FOR TALKING TO KIDS     

Remain calm and reassuring: Remember that children will react to both what you say and how you say it. They will pick up cues from the conversations you have with them and with others.

Make yourself available to listen and to talk: Make time to talk. Be sure children know they can come to you when they have questions.

Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio, or online: Consider reducing the amount of screen time focused on COVID-19. Too much information on one topic can lead to anxiety.

Provide information that is honest and accurate: Give children information that is truthful and appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child. Explain to children that some stories on COVID-19 on social media may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention