As the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise and daily life in the U.S. comes to a screeching halt, many parents are having a difficult time explaining the pandemic to their children.
Leading mental health professionals joined “Special Report” Thursday to answer questions submitted by the public, and offer guidance to parents on navigating these unfamiliar times.
Question: “Usually, we can talk to our kids about changing dates on the calendar and they can adjust to that pretty well. But with this situation, not knowing dates, not knowing when things will get back to normal, it is pretty tough to talk to them about how to deal with it. We could use a little help on that.”
Dr. Jamie Howard, Director of Trauma and Resilience Service at the Child Mind Institue advised parents to openly communicate with their children, and encouraged families to establish a “new routine.”
“We all really thrive on routine and predictability, kids in particular,” she explained. “It is so hard right now, there is so much uncertainty and we have to tolerate that.”
“Keep an open line of communication with your kids and tell them ‘I will tell you as soon as I know something…'”
— Dr. Jamie Howard, ‘Special Report’
“What you can do is keep an open line of communication with your kids and tell them that ‘I will tell you as soon as I know something that we can put on the calendar.’ Start with that, that’s a great way to keep them calm. You can also create a new routine in the meantime.”
Dr. Joshua Morgenstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Associations Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters, said children actually have more experience dealing with uncertainly than many would think.
“I think it is also helpful to remind kids that they have dealt with uncertainty before, different kinds of uncertainty,” he explained. “Kids deal with uncertainty when they are waiting to find out what score they got on a test, or whether they made a sports team. Those are smaller uncertainties … but reminding children of the skills that they have can help them think about what abilities they have to manage this present situation.”
“Remind kids that they have dealt with uncertainty before, different kinds of uncertainty…”
— Dr. Joshua Morgenstein, ‘Special Report’
Morgenstein also encouraged parents to explain to children that “the things they are doing and the changes in their routine … are not only for their health and the health and safety of their family, but also for the health and safety of their classmates, their friends, and their families. It is a way of teaching altruism to children at a young age.”
Question: Families and kids, they are seeing a lot of things, seeing people hoarding stuff in grocery stores, all kinds of news every day. What do you tell them?
Dr. Howard emphasized the importance of parents directly informing their children, and encouraged limited access to the news.
“We really want our kids to receive their information from parents, I would try to limit their exposure to news and what they are seeing and be, as much as you can, the source of the news for them,” she said.
Howard added that parents must be prepared and ready to provide explanations.
“If they [children] see people buying, a lot of groceries … hoarding, say, ‘Well, people want to be prepared and leave it at that.’ Ask them a question, keep an open line of communication and let them know it is okay to come to you at any point with questions.”
“When we don’t sleep well, eat well, our ability to think…and take care of our children also gets compromised.”
— Dr. Morgenstein, ‘Special Report’
Dr. Morgenstein said parents should make an effort to take their children outside at least once a day, and stressed the importance of maintaining healthy sleep and food patterns so parents are in the best position to guide their children through the disruption.
“Many of us are really focused right now and distracted understandably with managing the crisis at hand. It is easy to overlook basic self-care,” he explained. “Things like getting good sleep, eating regular meals, staying hydrated … those may sound like simple things but when we don’t sleep well and don’t eat well, our ability to think and make decisions and take care of our children also gets compromised.
“When parents are well, they are in the best position to take care of their children. We need to be thinking clearly to solve the problems that we have right now.”