By - Jim Reynolds
We may be so worried and stressed over the coronavirus that we are overlooking the mental health of our children. Their little lives have been completely disrupted from their normal routine. Their school is closed down, they no longer see their friends at church, and mom and dad are constantly watching the news and talking about this strange thing called the coronavirus. Here is something we as parents seem to forget. Our kids can sense our moods. They know we are worried, they know we are scared. We are the strongest most reliable thing in their lives. If we are scared what must they be feeling, imagine the pilot of your aircraft coming on the speaker and telling the passengers that he is worried about being able to land. Our children and grandchildren are very aware of what we say and do. In this extremely confusing time let’s not forget our children are scared too.
Here are a few suggestions from the American Academy of Pediatrics that apply to traumatic events.
Take care of yourself first. Children depend on the adults around them to be and feel, safe and secure. If you are very anxious or angry, children are likely to be more affected by your emotional state than by your words. Find someone you trust to help with your personal concerns.
Watch for unusual behavior that may suggest your child is having difficulty dealing with disturbing events. Be aware of stress-related symptoms: depressed or irritable moods; sleep disturbances - including increased sleeping, difficulty falling asleep, nightmares or nighttime waking; increased or decreased appetite; social withdrawal; obsessive play which interferes with normal activities - such as repetitively acting out the traumatic event; or hyperactivity that was not previously present.
Talk about the event with your child. To not talk about it makes the event even more threatening in your child’s mind. Silence suggests that what has occurred is too horrible to even speak of. Let your child know that it is all right to be upset about something bad that happened. Don't feel obligated to give a reason for what happened.
Ask your child about what they’ve already heard concerning the events and what understanding he or she has reached. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns.
Explain—as simply and directly as possible—the events that occurred. The amount of information that will be helpful to a child depends on his or her age. For example, older children generally want and will benefit from more detailed information than younger children. Because every child is different, take cues from your own child as to how much information to provide
Limit television viewing of terrorist events or other disasters, especially for younger children. When older children watch television, try to watch with them and use the opportunity to discuss what is being seen and how it makes you and your child feel.
Encourage your child to ask questions, and answer those questions directly. Like adults, children are better able to cope with a crisis if they feel they understand it. Question-and-answer exchanges help to ensure ongoing support as your child begins to understand the crisis and the response to it. Don’t force the issue with your child. Instead, extend multiple invitations for discussion and then provide an increased physical and emotional presence as you wait for him or her to be ready to accept those invitations.
Recognize that your child may appear disinterested. In the aftermath of a crisis, younger children may not know or understand what has happened or its implications. Older children and adolescents, who are used to turning to their peers for advice, may initially resist invitations from parents and other caregivers to discuss events and their personal reactions. Or, they may simply not feel ready to discuss their concerns.
Reassure children of the steps that are being taken to keep them safe. Terrorist attacks and other disasters remind us that we are never completely safe from harm. Now more than ever it is important to reassure children ...
Consider sharing your feelings about the event or crisis with your child. This is an opportunity for you to role model how to cope and how to plan for the future. Before you reach out, however, be sure that you are able to express a positive or hopeful plan.
Help your child to identify concrete actions he or she can take to help those affected by recent events. Rather than focus on what could have been done to prevent a terrorist attack or other disaster, concentrate on what can be done now to help those affected by the event.
Ultimate Mission believes that teaching children to pray and trust in Jesus is the very best way to dispel fear and give a sense of calm. No matter how hard we try we will never be perfect parents but as long as our children know that God is always there with them, stress can be managed and life can go on as normal as possible in these trying times.
As I write this on March 24, social distancing is the phrase of the day. Isolation seems to be the social norm and we are left wondering what can possibly be next.