Nashville just experienced a traumatic tornado. The world is experiencing an outbreak of a new virus. The markets are crashing. And there’s a lot of information, some doomsday, some laissez-faire, floating around online and on television. As an adult, it’s hard to filter through all the noise and decide what requires action and what can be ignored. And if you’re a kid, it’s even harder. So how can you help your child operate healthily during uncertain times?
Model Assuring Behavior
We are our child’s best model for behavior and reactions. They pick up and reflect our moods all the time. Times of uncertainty are no different. If you are anxious and fearful, your child will likely pick up and respond accordingly. However, if you are calm and reassuring, they’ll catch on to that as well.
If you don’t feel calm, take some time to process – whether in meditation or a hot bubble bath, talking and venting with a trusted confidant, finding a trusted source of information, or stepping away to find your source of calm so you can turn around and be the source of calm for your kids.
Initiate the Conversation
Have the hard conversations by being proactive and age appropriate. Whether the topic is coronavirus, terrorists or natural disasters, don’t be afraid to bring it up. Chances are your kid has heard about it. And if they haven’t, they will. If you start the conversation, you get to be the primary source of information! It’s much easier to control the narrative when you start the conversation than when you have to try to correct rumors and misinformation after they’ve already wormed their way into your child’s imagination.
Make sure you are not only proactive and unafraid to talk about current happenings but be age appropriate. You wouldn’t have the same conversation with a four-year-old as you would a fourteen-year-old. So, don’t use big, scary words or overshare things beyond your child’s ability to understand.
Bringing up difficult topics also gives you the ability to ask what, if anything, your child has heard so far. You can address what’s true and what’s not.
- Not every storm is a tornado.
- Most people who contract coronavirus have mild-to-moderate symptoms and no long-term effects.
- This illness isn’t limited to an ethnicity or linked to consuming certain foods or beverages.
Don’t Dismiss Fears or Disappointments
It’s really easy to tell them, “Don’t worry, it’s all fine.” Or, “there will be other concerts.” Dismissing their fears about weather when they’ve just experienced a tornado or disregarding their emotions when an event is cancelled because they are trying to slow and prevent the spread of an illness doesn’t do them any favors. Instead, it tells them their emotions, thoughts, ideas and fears are irrelevant or unimportant.
There is a balance in validating their emotions and feeding fear. Allow them to talk and express their emotions so you can walk them through and get them back to a good place. You can ask, “how do you feel about that?” Or, “if you could, what would you do to deal with this disappointment / fear?” Being their safe space and listening to their input gives you insight in how to guide them; it also makes them feel heard.
If you or your kids are on social media all day long or have the television on in the background, you’re likely to become overwhelmed with news, scare tactics and talking heads spewing their opinions about your life, whether fact based or not.
Take the opportunity to turn devices off. Be together. Go for a hike or play a game. A strong sense of family or community can ground both you and your children, making you feel more safe, less alone and less afraid.
Give Action Options
Remind your children that, while not everything can be prevented in life, there are lots of things you can do to reduce your risk and stay safe. And you, as their parent, are doing those things to keep them healthy.
- Review with them your family safety plan in the event of a natural disaster or emergency (Basement? Bathtub with mattress? Family meeting spot in the event of evacuating due to fire?)
- Remind them to always wash their hands well, with soap, for at least twenty seconds.
- Try to keep their hands off their face and out of their mouth.
- Teach them how to cough or sneeze properly (into the crook of the elbow) and to wash their hands every time, including nose blowing.
- Keep them home if they are sick.
- Use prudence when deciding what events to attend or postpone.
Balance is Key
As with most things in life, balance is key. Reduce their fears by not using “lemming” logic and blindly following strange hoarding trends you don’t understand or need. Don’t make disparaging remarks about those who seem more cautious than you. You don’t know their circumstance (lower immune system, caregiver for aging parents or an at-risk group member, etc.).
Try to maintain a healthy immune system for both yourself and your kids. Be active, provide them with good nutrition, using a high quality children’s supplement if needed. Get adequate rest. A healthy, rested, balanced person (you AND your child) is calmer and better able to properly manage well-being, fear and navigate the unknowns.