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Tips to Help Children (By Age Group) and Families Cope with COVID-19

Monday, March 16, 2020

Your children may respond differently to the coronavirus pandemic depending on their age. Below are some reactions to prepare for based on age ranges, along with ways to  respond:

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Preschool to Age 5

Reactions:

  • Fear of being alone, bad dreams
  • Speech difficulties
  • Loss of bladder/bowel control, constipation, bed wetting
  • Change in appetite
  • Increased temper tantrums, whining of clinging behaviors

How to Help:

  • Patience and tolerance
  • Provide reassurance (verbal and physical)
  • Encourage expression through play, reenactment, story-telling
  • Allow short-term changes in sleep arrangements
  • Plan calming, comforting activities before bedtime
  • Maintain regular family routines
  • Avoid media exposure

Ages 6-12

Reactions:

  • Irritability, whining, aggressive behavior
  • Clinging, nightmares
  • Physical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches)
  • Withdrawal from peers, loss of interest
  • Competition for parents’ attention
  • Forgetfulness about chores and new information learned at school

How to Help:

  • Patience, tolerance and reassurance
  • Play sessions and staying in touch with friends through telephone and internet
  • Regular exercise and stretching
  • Engage in educational activities (workbooks, educational games)
  • Participate in structured household chores
  • Set gentle but firm limits
  • Discuss the current outbreak and encourage questions. Include what is being done in the family and community.
  • Encourage expression through play and conversation
  • Help family create ideas for enhancing health promotion behaviors and maintaining family routines
  • Limit media exposure, talking about what they have seen/heard including at school
  • Address any stigma or discrimination occurring and clarify misinformation

Ages 13-18

Reactions:

  • Physical symptoms (headaches, stomachaches)
  • Sleep/appetite disturbances
  • Agitation or decrease in energy, apathy
  • Ignoring health promotion behaviors
  • Isolating from peers and loved ones
  • Concerns about stigma and injustices

How to Help:

  • Patience, tolerance and reassurance
  • Encourage continuation of routines
  • Encourage discussion of outbreak experience with peers, family (but do not force)
  • Stay in touch with friends through telephone, internet and video games
  • Participate in family routines, including chores, supporting younger siblings, and planning strategies to enhance health promotion behaviors
  • Limit media exposure, talking about what they have seen/heard including at school
  • Discuss and address stigma, prejudice and potential injustices occurring during outbreak

Here’s Advice for Families:

Even if your family is prepared, an outbreak can be very stressful. Following these recommendations can help:

  • Seek support and continued connections from friends and family by talking to them on the phone, texting or communication through email or social media. 
  • Although you need to stay informed, minimize exposure to media outlets or social media that might promote fear or panic. Be particularly aware of (and limit) how much media coverage or social media time your children are exposed to about the outbreak. 
  • Focus on supporting children by encouraging questions and helping them understand the current situation.
  • Talk about their feelings and validate these
  • Help them express their feelings through drawing or other activities
  • Clarify misinformation and misunderstandings about how the disease is spread
  • Provide comfort and extra patience
  • Check back in with your children on a regular basis or when the situation changes

Scheduling and Activities:

  • Even if your family is isolated or quarantined, realize this will be temporary
  • Keep your family’s schedule consistent when it comes to bedtimes, meals and exercise
  • Make time to do things at home that have made you and your family feel better in other stressful situation, such as reading, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, etc.
  • Recognize that feelings such as loneliness, boredom, fear of contracting disease, anxiety, stress and panic are normal reactions to a stressful situation such as a disease outbreak. 
  • Help your family engage in fun and meaningful activities consistent with your family and cultural values.  

Seeking Additional Help

If you or a loved one is having a difficult time comping with the outbreak and want to seek outside help, there are ways to get that help. For example:

  • Get support regarding your anxiety or stress by speaking to a trained counselor at SAMHS Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUS 66746
  • Contact your physician or insurance company (if they have a consultation line) to ask health-related questions or to seek mental health support.
  • Additional resources can be accessed at:

www.NCTSN.org

www.healthychildren.org

www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/speicific-groups/children-faq.html 

The information provided here is from the Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, www.NCTSN.org 

If you need help, contact NewBridge at services@newbridge.org or 973-316-9333.

 

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