How should parents, mentors, and other caring adults talk to children and adolescents about the growing COVID-19 pandemic? As a mentor, it is certainly appropriate to acknowledge some level of concern and to provide age-appropriate, accurate information that encourages actions that reduce the risk of exposure. But, if children see adults as overly worried, they are likely to feel even more distressed. Calm reassurance is needed–and mentors should reach out to their mentees (by phone, video, text, or whatever their program recommends) and be a steady source of comfort and conversation about their concerns. To help steer this conversation, a slightly adapted version of the National Association of School Psychologists guidelines are likely to be useful to parents and mentors alike:
Remain calm and reassuring.
- Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions.
- What you say and do about COVID-19, current prevention efforts, and related events can either increase or decrease your children’s anxiety.
- Remind them that you and the adults in their lives are there to keep them safe and healthy.
- Let your mentee talk about their feelings and help reframe their concerns into the appropriate perspective.
Make yourself available.
- Your mentee may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears, and questions.
- It is important that they know they have someone who will listen to them; make time for them.
- Tell them you care about them and give them plenty of affection.
Avoid excessive blaming.
- When tensions are high, sometimes we try to blame someone. It is important to avoid stereotyping any one group of people as responsible for the virus.
- Be aware of any comments that other adults are having. You may have to explain what comments mean.
Monitor television viewing and social media.
- Speak about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumors and inaccurate information.
- Talk to your mentee about factual information about this disease—this can help reduce anxiety.
- Constantly watching updates on the status of COVID-19 can increase anxiety—remind them to avoid this.
- Be aware that developmentally inappropriate information (i.e., information designed for adults) can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in children.
- Encourage your mentee to engage in games or other interesting activities instead.
Maintain a normal routine to the extent possible.
- Remind your mentee to keep a regular schedule, as this can be reassuring and promotes physical health.
- Encourage your mentee to keep up with their schoolwork, but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
Be honest and accurate.
- In the absence of factual information, children often imagine situations far worse than reality.
- Don’t ignore their concerns, but rather explain that at the present moment very few people in this county are sick with COVID-19.
- Children can be told this disease is thought to be spread between people who are in close contact with one another—when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
- It is also thought it can be spread when you touch an infected surface or object, which is why it is so important to protect yourself.
- For additional factual information contact your school nurse, ask your doctor, or check the https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html website.