We spoke with Dr. Steven Tobias, Director of the Center for Child & Family Development in Morristown, NJ, about how we can help ourselves and our family through this challenging time. He has over 25 years experience working with children, parents, families, and schools.
Tips for Managing During the COVID-19 Crisis
1. Parents, you need to first take care of yourselves. If you are stressed out, it is difficult to support and reassure your child. Be aware of, and deal with your feelings. Prioritize time to do things that are good for you, such as going for a walk, reading, listening to music, meditation, talking to a friend, or engaging in an enjoyable activity.
2. Use this as an opportunity to reinforce family bonds. Do family activities such as working on a project together, making a meal, organizing a room, or playing nontechnology games.
3. You want to stay informed, but limit exposure to the news. You do not want to be in denial, nor do you want to obsess.
4. Limit social media use. Stay connected to others either by phone or safe social contact.
5. Have a routine for the day, but not a rigid schedule. Make sure the routine is balanced between work, play, family time, and down time.
6. Children will process the crisis differently, depending on age and temperament. Some children are more reactive to stress and change, others are more adaptable. In general:
ages 2 to 6 are more concrete, and will be focused on immediate situations
ages 7 to 12 think more abstractly, and will be exposed to more information
teens can take others’ perspectives, and are independent information seekers
7. For all children, start out by asking them what they know, and what thoughts or feeling they might have about it. Validate and empathize with any feelings they may have. Correct any misinformation, and give them truthful statements at a level they can understand. Younger children should be given simplified information and reassurance. Encourage discussion with older children, with an emphasis on your family’s values. Have follow-up discussions to check for understanding and explore additional issues.
8. Empower children by talking to them about what they can do to be healthy (wash hands, eat well, get enough sleep); focus on staying healthy, not the virus.