Father and daughter wearing masks The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of uncertainty and caused a great deal of stress. Even with a vaccine on the horizon, many of us — children and adults — may have more questions than answers. Your child might be wondering if the pandemic will ever end and whether we’ll face another in the future.

To help guide these conversations with your child, child life specialists at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) offer these helpful tips.

Provide honest, simple information

When talking to your child about the pandemic, it’s important to consider their individual needs. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, withholding information from children can actually create more worry, as what they imagine can be worse than reality. One way to reduce this worry and reassure your child is to provide honest and simple information that is appropriate for your child’s age.

  • Ask your child what they know about the pandemic and address any misconceptions they may have heard from their peers or on the news. Some things your child has heard may be untrue or exaggerated, and this may increase their fear. Consider monitoring and limiting exposure to news outlets and adult conversations.
  • Choose a time of day when you are both able to be fully present. A familiar and safe environment can help your child better engage in conversation.
  • Maintain a calm presence and tone of voice when having these conversations.
  • Validate your child’s emotions and avoid playing down their feelings. For example, your child may notice other children engaging in activities that contradict what your family has determined to be safe. Validate any frustration but remind your child that each family creates their own set of rules. Work together to choose an alternate activity that is fun but also safe.
  • Let your child know that scientists and doctors are continuing to learn more about the virus and working hard to keep people safe.
  • Remember that it’s okay if you don’t know the answer to your child’s questions. Just be honest and tell your child you’ll let them know when you have more information.

Give your child a sense of control

Your child’s world looks very different now than it did last year. Whether or not they are showing signs of stress, your child may feel a loss of control in the face of all this change. You can lessen your child’s stress and anxiety by helping them regain a sense of control over their everyday lives.

  • Involve your child in appropriate family discussions. As your family works together to navigate changing routines and household chores, your child will begin to understand that they are an important part of the family whose actions contribute to the household. For example, encourage your child’s participation in meal planning and preparation.
  • Create and maintain a daily routine, particularly around mealtimes and bedtimes.
  • Encourage your child to get dressed and perform personal hygiene at the start of each day. When your child takes part in age-appropriate self-care, they are gaining independence and control over their health and well-being.
  • Allow your child to choose their own mask design. If your child still struggles with resistance to mask-wearing, check out “Getting Your Child to Wear a Face Mask.
  • Encourage your child to focus on what they can do as opposed to what they can’t do. Consider creating a list of fun activities to do at home together or online with friends.

Model healthy coping behaviors

Children are just beginning to identify the activities and behaviors that help them feel calm during a stressful time. These are called coping skills, which are strategies used to reduce stress and anxiety. Talk with your child about what things might help them feel better when they are anxious. Here are a few coping skills your family can practice together:

  • Learn and practice therapeutic breathing techniques with your child.
  • Consider going for a walk with your child or try something simple, like dancing to a song. Exercise helps the body release stress and increases a sense of well-being.
  • Give your child extra cuddles whenever they need it. Many children benefit from a calming touch — and it may help you feel better, too!

Find more ways to help your family navigate the pandemic.

Contributors: Melanie Hoynoski, CCLS, CTRS, and Allison Tappon, MS, CCLS

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