With images of cities in lockdown, exhausted healthcare workers, packed hospitals and rapidly increasing infection charts, it's hard not to be affected by the international Coronavirus pandemic coverage.
The emotional toll from a global crisis can cause intense, confusing, and overwhelming emotions. These emotions aren’t limited to the people who have directly experienced the event. Exposure to round-the-clock news coverage and endless social media posts can result in feelings of anxiety, particularly among children.
Research shows that adults can also be traumatised by this constant stream of bad news. Symptoms of trauma in kids include being withdrawn, more clingy than usual, or reverting to childhood habits such as thumbsucking.
Young people may feel particularly anxious about COVID19 as their daily realities are constantly evolving, such as schools closing, parents' work situations changing and being unable to see loved ones such as grandparents or close friends.
Here are some tips to help your family work through the trauma of the COVID19.
1. Reassure your children that they are safe:
The media's emphasis on the increasing number of cases can scare children as many may worry that their families, loved ones and/or themselves could fall victim to the virus. Don’t be afraid to talk about COVID19 with your children.
You can help to reduce their fear and stress by providing opportunities to answer questions in an honest and age-appropriate way. Be mindful not to overwhelm them with unnecessary information (e.g., death rates) as this may increase their anxiety. It may be helpful to reassure children that coronavirus is less common and severe in children compared to adults.
2. Limit media exposure:
In this day and age, with news everywhere, we can’t shelter children completely from traumatic stories. However repeated exposure to graphic media stories is likely to cause fear in children.
To avoid your children having to deal with these feelings alone ensure to limit their unsupervised access to television and social media. Instead, make sure you are with children when they are viewing stories and reassure them if they are feeling anxious. Check in regularly with the news, but balance it out with leisure activities that reduce stress.
3. Focus on positive stories:
Highlight to your children the positive stories that have come from the pandemic such as communities coming together creating socially distant bear hunts; the positive effects of less pollution on the environment and the new ways people can now communicate, through apps such as Facetime. Sharing these stories will give children a sense of hope and understanding of the importance of coming together in the face of tragedy.
5. Let them know what they can do:
Working to help those more vulnerable to Coronavirus is a great way to positively navigate the situation with your kids. Like adults, children are likely to feel better if they are given the opportunity to help. This could involve writing letters and drawing pictures to send to grandparents or friends.
Allow your kids regular contact (e.g. by phone) with people they may worry about, such as grandparents, to reassure them that they are okay. Make sure kids are aware of what they need to do to stay safe, giving them a sense of control (e.g. wash their hands regularly, staying away from people who are coughing or sneezing).
6. Spend time as a family
It is important to maintain social routines and spend meaningful time with children in the wake of the pandemic. If school holiday plans were altered due to the pandemic, ensure to still spend valuable time together.
7. Look after yourself and seek help if necessary
The way in which parents and carers respond to the global pandemic directly influences the reaction in children. If you are experiencing persistent feelings of stress and anxiety, seek advice from your GP or mental health professional. Being proactive by following basic hygiene principles can keep your anxiety at bay. The World Health Organisation recommends a number of protective measures against the coronavirus, including to:
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- Stay at home if you begin to feel unwell until you fully recover
- Seek medical care early if you have a fever, cough or experience breathing difficulties
Make sure you check out Thrive Inside, Smiling Mind's initiative to help you foster good mental health during the Coronavirus crisis.