Many of us are dealing with stress and anxiety related to the coronavirus pandemic. If you have children at home, they also may be dealing with similar feelings — but they have less life experience to interpret what they’re seeing and hearing.
While you can’t shelter your children from the news, there are ways that you can help them understand and process it. Cigna Behavioral Health, the administrator of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offered through the Board of Pensions, provides the following strategies to reassure your children and reduce anxiety during this global health crisis.
Monitor and talk about what they see on the news. Be aware of what your children are exposed to (including via digital devices) and set limits. Watch the news with them and discuss it afterward. Talk with teens about the importance of getting information from reputable sources and share examples, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Encourage your children to talk to you about their thoughts and feelings. Let them express fears, thoughts, and worries. Be supportive and sympathetic but avoid overreacting. Be ready for hard questions: “Will I get sick?” “What if it happens to you or Dad?”
Give direct, age-appropriate answers. Children need facts to process what’s going on and understand what it means. Be honest but sensitive in how you answer. Include messages of reassurance: “We’re going to do everything we can to stay healthy.”
Offer only as much information as they request. Sometimes our own discomfort can push us to keep talking, and we end up on shaky ground. Listen to what they’re asking and answer that question. Period. It’s okay to say you don’t have all the answers.
Reassure with words. When you talk with your children, point out that the risk to any one person is low. Talk about safety precautions that the government, your community, doctors, and your own family are taking to stay safe.
Reassure with actions. Maintain family routines, particularly around meals, bedtimes, and scheduled activities. Give lots of hugs. Express your love out loud. Make time to do things together, such as riding bikes, taking a walk, reading together, or playing board games as a family. Structure and normalcy feel safe.
You know your child’s personality and behavior patterns. Look for changes such as sleep problems, changes in appetite, moodiness or irritability, or withdrawal. If you see changes that concern you, and they go on for more than a couple of weeks, contact a mental health professional.
The EAP* is available 24/7 to support you, your family members, and anyone who lives in your home.
*The EAP is not available to members enrolled in Triple-S, GeoBlue, or the Medicare Supplement Plan.