As governments and healthcare experts across the globe navigate humanity’s response to the COVID 19 pandemic, our lives have been turned upside down and we sit in our homes, trying to find a new “normal.” We have too many questions and too few answers. Many of us feel overwhelmed in the face of so much uncertainty.
Now imagine what it’s like to be a child in this environment.
Children don’t yet have the cognitive development, life experience, and coping skills to deal with the uncertainties we are all facing. It’s up to the adults in children’s lives to help them manage these feelings.
Here are some strategies to help your child cope with uncertainty:
Validate your child’s feelings and concerns.
Accept how they are feeling and resist the urge to “fix” their feelings and worries by minimizing them or making promises that are not in your control to keep.
Be open and honest with your child.
We often think that we can protect children by keeping information from them. The truth is, children sense when something is wrong. When we don’t share information with them, they will make up their own stories to explain what’s wrong, and their stories can increase feelings of anxiety, depression, and helplessness. On top of that, children feel like they have to deal with these feelings on their own because their parents haven’t talked to them about it.
Talk to your children about COVID 19 in a way that is appropriate for their age.
You can start the conversation by asking your child what they know about it. This will help you fill in gaps in their knowledge and correct misconceptions. There are multiple resources available online to help you discuss COVID 19 with children.
Here are a few:
COVI Book for Kids
COVID Comic Book for Kids
Hey Kids, Coronavirus Has Changed Everything
Limit your child’s access to the news.
While it is important to stay informed, too much news keeps the uncertainties that we’re facing front and center in our minds. It’s ok to take a break and focus on other things. Try checking the news 1-2 times a day, perhaps once in the morning and again in the evening. Redirect your child to other activities if they are watching or reading the news too much.
Establish a consistent and predictable routine for your child.
Routines help children feel safe and secure because they know what to expect each day. Children don’t yet have the self-awareness to recognize that having structure in their life helps them to thrive, so they need adults to create and maintain the structure for them.
Create clear boundaries between school and home.
For the time being, school and home have become the same place. This blurring of boundaries means that children may have difficulty separating school from home. If possible, create a place in the home that is solely used for schoolwork, and place a physical boundary between the ‘school’ and ‘home’. If this is not possible, then put all schoolwork and school supplies away whenever your child is not “at school.” You can also create a boundary between school and home by creating and sticking to a schedule delineating when your child is “at school” and when your child is “at home.”
Help your child focus on what they can control.
It’s human nature to focus on things that we cannot control, but this creates feelings of anxiety and helplessness. Validate your child’s feelings and concerns. Then you can help them identify the things in their life that are in their control. Create additional opportunities for your child to have control. For example, let them choose what to have for dinner one night a week, or let them choose which game to play for family game night.
Take care of yourself.
It’s difficult to help someone else with something that you are struggling with too. In this unprecedented situation, we are all struggling at some level. That’s ok. In fact, it’s normal. Most of these strategies for helping your child cope with uncertainty will help you cope too. When you use strategies to help you deal with uncertainty in a healthy way, you’re teaching your child how to do it too.
Though we are facing many uncertainties today, one thing is for sure – knowing how to cope with uncertainty will help your child navigate life’s joys and challenges.
Jessica Hernandez, LPC, LMFT
Manager of Therapy Services