Claudia Smith and Gemma Camacho, two of our Thrive counsellors experienced in child and adolescent work together with Graham Fawcett, our Director of Psychosocial services give their tips for helping our children in these times.
Children get scared by events but children aren’t little adults. How can we talk to them? Generally speaking, children under the age of 5 or so are content so long as their parents and care givers are reassuring. Those aged 5 – 11 tend to think in a very concrete way and tend to think in absolutes but can usually be reassured by trusted adults. Much above the age of 11 – 13 teenagers can reason like adults but don’t have the life experience to put things in perspective.
How can we put these principles into practice?
Under 5 years old
- Keep up as best you can with routines
- They aren’t going to be able to meet up with friends but it may be possible for them to meet by phone or facetime or similar.
- Keep them away from un-necessary contact with the news or conversations that could alarm them.
- Infants know when those around them are worried and tend to believe that it is their fault. Reassure them that no one is upset with them.
- Reassurance and distraction are the super-powers of adults for infants who are worried in the moment.
- Bed-time routines become even more important – settle them with a story, hugs, reassurance and a cheery ‘see you in the morning’.
Between 6 years old to 11 years old
- Be honest but keep the language simple.
- Be hopeful yet realistic. For example, express hope that older relatives or those who are already sick will be ok since most will be, yet don’t make promises.
- Make use of the great resources for children that are already out there. Here is a particularly good one in multiple languages: https://www.mindheart.co/descargables
- Answer their questions. All of them. Sometimes repeatedly. You’re the adult and know when the conversation is winding them up rather than settling them – before that point switch topics or activities. Being available to answer questions is reassuring in itself.
Teenagers can increasingly self-manage all the tips above. As ever they will increasingly get their information from peers or the internet but need to keep the communication going with you.
- Help them to unplug from the news and self-limit on-line media that is alarming. Help them to find a trusted site and stick with it.
- Normalise their anxiety – it is normal to feel anxious when we over estimate danger and under estimate our ability to handle it. Everyone is in this boat at the moment.
- Remind them of healthy coping strategies – e.g. breathe, imagine a safe space, distract themselves, set a specific worry time, stay in touch with friends but don’t just talk about coronavirus, get them outside if possible and change rooms every so often if possible.
- Help them get some control back – think of different tunes for their handwashing song, find ways to help others who are worried, remember that isolation is to help all of us reduce the chances of the virus being spread around – not just so they can stay healthy.
- Make a schedule of different things to do in the day including some coronavirus free times.
Children and adolescents do well in stressful times when the grownups around them seem calm, don’t keep secrets and help them to refocus on positive things. Make those memories and they will talk in a good way about this season for years to come.
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