Parenting: Talking to Kids About the Next Phase of COVID-19
How can parents talk to kids about the next phase of COVID-19?
Parents are asking, what do I tell my kids about this next phase of COVID-19? The most important thing to tell children, teenagers and adults for that matter is that it's not over. The pandemic isn't over. It feels different. It might feel to some as if it's over. Some things might actually be different and look different. In fact, the pandemic continues. So what we need to tell kids is that we need to continue engaging in behaviors that keep them and others safe. So for example, a nice way to describe this to kids is maybe with video games. So in a video game, you go through levels, and we have gone through maybe level one, level two of video game. So this next level means that it's summer, and we may not have school. We're looking ahead to the new school year. And there are certain things that we can continue to do to keep ourselves safe. And what does that mean? So wearing a mask, wearing a mask is one of the most important public health behaviors we can ask kids to continue to engage in, and we may need to remind them of why we wear a mask. Number two is washing your hands. You may have picked a song that lasts for 20 seconds to wash your hands to, and maybe you can pick a new song to wash hands to over the summer. Number three is keeping a physical distance. There are several visuals online that parents can find to describe why physical distancing, keeping six, eight, 10 feet apart from someone is important. Kids love to talk about spit. So talk to them about how spit travels, and why it's important if when you wear a mask, you block your spit from coming out, and you block others' spit from coming in. Why, when you keep six to eight feet apart, it makes it harder for someone's spit to reach you and for your spit to reach someone else. So even though we are in what feels like a different phase, we should remember the pandemic is not over, and we need to continue to engage in safety behaviors for ourselves and for others.
So what do parents do now?
Parents are asking plainly, what do we do now? What do we tell our kids now? These times of transition are a nice opportunity to look back and reflect. A lot has happened over the past weeks and months, and these times of transition are a nice opportunity to look back and think about and talk to kids about what went well. What did they do well in adjusting to remote learning? What did they do well in adjusting from remote learning to the start of summer? What did you guys as a family do well in adjusting? It may not have always been pretty. There may have been some ugly cries in there, and that's okay. But what are the lessons that we learned from these past few weeks and months, and what went well? We never wanna miss an opportunity to give kids specific and labeled praise and reinforce what they did and how resilient they were. What else do we do? We can plan. We may not have all the information we need. There's still a lot out of our control. We may not know the full details of what's going to happen with school. However, we can still plan. And one of the keys to planning is trying to take just the next week or two as they come, trying to plan for the next week and the week after that. Try to include kids in that planning as much as possible, if there's any opportunity to provide autonomy or helping them to make some decisions about what they can do and how they spend their time, trying to find opportunities for socializing with friends in a safe way, and doing so in segments and small chunks. Beyond that, we may not know, or may not have certain factors in our control, but we can plan. Another thing to remember is that it's not over. And reminding kids that any planning, any outing, anything that they are planning for that involves sort of leaving the house may require them to continue, will require them to continue to engage in safe behaviors that keep them safe and that keep others safe. So continuing to model wearing a mask, washing their hands and being able to maintain a safe distance, safe physical distance, six to eight feet from others if they do, and if their plans involve interacting with others. And one of the most important things parents could do in that is modeling those behaviors themselves.
How do we help kids worry about the uncertainty of school?
So how do we help kids cope with the worry around all of the uncertainty about school? Some kids are worried about going back to school. Some kids are worried about not going back to school. Some kids are worried about all of the information they're starting to hear about these mixed models, a hybrid model. They might go to school on some days and not on others. What's important to remember is that it makes sense that they might be worried about this. These are confusing times. There's a lot of information circulating. And so it's important to validate that it's okay that they feel confused. It makes sense that they feel confused. And parents, it's okay that you're stressed out about it and worried about it, too. There's a lot of information, and there's a lot of uncertainty. So we wanna validate, and you want to self-validate that it makes sense that you're worried and feeling distressed by it. The second thing is to focus on what you can control. There are so much still out of our control, and it's important to teach kids that there are certain things that are in their control. So what specifically were they worried about? Are they worried about social connections and seeing their friends, or some academic aspects of wanting to do certain activities? If you can, how do we help kids control what they can in these days? Are there ways to plan a physically distant and safe play dates or gatherings with their friends? Is there a way for them to do a project, or read a book, or do something online that will sort of scratch the itch for the academic aspect of what they might be missing? Of course, another important element in their control is safe behaviors such as wearing a mask, washing their hands, keeping a physical distance and safe distance from others and reminding them that that is one of the most important aspects in all of this that they have in their control. And a third aspect of this that's very important in tolerating anxiety in general, not just the school-related worry, is teaching kids that sometimes we have to tolerate uncertainty. We have to sit with the discomfort. We want to fix things. We want to make the bad feelings go away. And actually it's more important sometimes to sit with and tolerate those feelings of distress and discomfort and sit with and tolerate the uncertainty.