With news that Governor Gretchen Whitmer has ordered all K-12 schools in Michigan closed for three weeks, your children might understandably have questions or anxiety about the new strain of coronavirus, which has been confirmed in the state. Children often respond to a situation based on how adults around them are reacting – and children will react more strongly to stress in times of crisis. Children have already likely heard about the new coronavirus -- which causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19 -- on the news, at school or online. They may have seen people wearing masks or wonder why there’s been a surge in talking about diseases. As a parent or caregiver, approaching the issue calmly and confidently will help ease children’s fears. The more prepared adults are to respond to the outbreak, the more reassuring they can be to children. To start, ask children what they’ve heard or learned about the virus. You can likely ease their worries by answering their questions and by sharing facts. Let them guide the conversation so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Don’t bring up anything that may be perceived as scary unless they ask about it. Remember, it’s okay to answer with “I don’t know.” Speak calmly during your time together. Remind children that they are safe, and that it’s fine for them to feel upset. Be a role model with your own behavior: share how you manage your stress with children. Eat well, sleep well and keep exercising. With regular school activities canceled, make sure children have a sense of structure to their day. Limit children’s access to media coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, as they may misinterpret what they’re hearing and be frightened about something they don’t understand. Always remember to share age-appropriate information. What a 10-year old might be able to understand is not the same as what a four-year old should know. Every child reacts to stress differently. Watch children for signs of stress, including excessive crying and irritation, returning to behaviors they have outgrown, excessive worrying or sadness, unhealthy eating or a change in sleeping habits, irritability or behavior changes, poor performance at school, difficulty concentrating, avoiding favorite activities, unexplained headaches or body pain and use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs. Kids and adults can follow these tips to stay healthy:
- Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds. You can make this fun by telling them to sing their favorite song while scrubbing their hands. When in doubt, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” is a good choice. Have them watch this video so they know the right way to wash their hands.
- Try not to touch your face. Touching a contaminated surface and then touching the ears, mouth, eyes or nose gives the disease a path to infection. Tell your kids to act like a superhero by keeping their hands on their hips or at their side as much as possible.
- If you’re going to sneeze or cough, make sure to use a tissue. Covering your mouth or nose will help prevent the potential spread of COVID-19. You can tell kids the tissue is like a shield that keeps them from getting sick and helps other people stay healthy too.
- Disinfect surfaces regularly. If you need to clean their toys, tell them the toys are getting a bath to stay healthy. It will let them know that you need to disinfect them and the reason why.
- Call relatives. If your little ones are worried about relatives or friends, ease their fears by allowing them to call anyone they’re concerned about. Have the relatives confirm they are doing fine.
You can also conduct daily health checks. Once a day, check-in with your child to make sure they don’t have any symptoms, such as fever, cough or shortness of breath. Create a checklist of symptoms and tell them it’s a “safety status report.” If they say that they do have any of the symptoms, keep them out of public spaces and consult a doctor for next steps. You can also use this time to do a mental health check and see if they have any worries or concerns and address those as needed. As health care providers may become overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, it may be a good time to try telehealth services if you’re seeking care for mild illnesses other than COVID-19. For up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 from MIBluesPerspectives.com, click here. Related content:
- How to Self-Quarantine During the Coronavirus Outbreak
- Strategies to Manage Your Coronavirus Stress and Anxiety
- How to Access Telehealth Care During the Coronavirus Outbreak
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