Written by Amanda Abel – paediatric psychologist and founder of Northern & Hawthorn Centres for Child Development
Well it’s pretty hard NOT to take notice of the toilet paper that’s flying off the supermarket shelves along with hand sanitiser and flour right now. What are your kids saying about it? I wonder what their thoughts are? What have you said to them? Have they asked any questions?
If your kiddos have seen the news, which lets face it, has had pretty graphic imagery of drastic measures being taken to control what is now an epidemic, they might be feeling a little nervous about catching coronavirus. Add to the equation, parents and caregivers encouraging the hand sanitiser a little more than usual, and we are left with some kiddos who are probably pretty confused and anxious.
Here are my tips and thoughts to manage parenting through the coronavirus epidemic without causing undue stress for your kids:
Limit exposure to the media – This is the same as for any disaster, don’t let your kids see the tv or newspapers if you can. Particularly primary school children who don’t have the reasoning skills to understand how this is likely to impact their lives. Remember, the child brain is far less developed that your own. If you are struggling to comprehend the coronavirus epidemic, how do you think your kids are feeling? Unless you are able to censor the coverage and sit down and talk your child through it in an age-appropriate way that helps them understand it, don’t expose them to the media coverage.
Don’t talk about it too much – again, at risk of repeating myself with my piece about the recent Australian bushfires, don’t initiate too many conversations about this. Your kids don’t need to hear the adult perspective of coronavirus and how many deaths there are, what the fatality rate is, and how it started. Contain your anxiety, answer your kids’ questions in terms that are appropriate for them to understand, and focus on more relevant and real issues for their daily life (i.e. homework, friendships, what’s for dinner!). Don’t make it taboo to talk about, but also don’t focus on it.
Talk about Likely Vs Unlikely – I use this a lot clinically to help children with anxiety. We talk about perceived threats and try to put them into perspective. I.e. “it’s unlikely that you’ll catch coronavirus right now”. OR “you might catch coronavirus, but it’s unlikely that it will be any worse than a case of the flu like you had last year” etc. As parents, we need to remember to put things in perspective too, and be rational so that our kids don’t pick up on our anxiety.
Give them some control – if your child is really worried, show them how they can follow rational medical advice to help ease their anxiety. At the time of writing, the medical advice is suggesting we focus on washing our hands properly as a preventative measure for contracting coronavirus. Encourage your child to put some measures in place like washing their hands when they get home from school and before they eat. Let them know that this is a helpful way to manage their feelings of stress.
I hope these ideas help, it can be really hard to navigate disasters and epidemics as parents – so reach out for help if you need it.
Amanda Abel, psychologist, is the founder of Northern and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development. She has over fourteen years’ experience working with families and has a special interest in paediatrics, autism spectrum disorders, developmental delays, learning difficulties, disabilities and behaviour management. She has worked in a variety of settings in both the public and private sectors which has allowed her to gain extensive experience helping a wide range of clients.
While working with children witih Autism during her tertiary studies, Amanda developed a particular interest in early intervention for children with autism, developmental delays, disabilities and challenging behaviours. Amanda’s honours thesis investigated the social skills, friendship expectations and attention of high functioning children with autism, and this was presented in 2004 at the 3rd Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Forum, Melbourne.
After her own experience becoming a mother, Amanda undertook the Circle of Security Parenting® (COS-P) training and is now a registered COS-P parent educator. She has now combined her knowledge of behaviour modification with the attachment principles from the COS-P program to provide families with practical strategies that are sensitive and responsive to their child’s emotional needs.