Children have been hearing about this “COVID thing” for over a 1 ½ years and don’t really know how to respond or process the implications of its effects. Some have family members who have contracted this deadly virus, others are hearing about it through social media channels, or through school and friends. Some have even contracted the virus themselves and had to deal with the health challenges and isolation that accompanies it.
Many children have been subjected to the dreaded nasal swab and it has caused much anxiety for them. In one instance, a young girl was so frightened to take the test that she had a panic attack and wouldn’t allow it to be administered. When asked why she was scared, she cited her fear that if she took the test and it was positive, she could die.
When children who have had COVID are cleared to go back to school, the other kids don’t want to be around them for fear that they may contract the virus. So, there is now a stigma that children must overcome associated with having had COVID, and returning back to school and other activities.
There are so many misnomers about COVID and what can happen to children. It is particularly sad to see children having to cope with things that they are way too young to understand and navigate and as a result, therapists are seeing an increase in childhood anxiety. Even the debate about whether to wear masks or not has caused much confusion for children.
Questions about mortality are very painful for parents to have to address, but unfortunately, the reality is that children are exposed to news and other forms of communication that is deeply affecting them and they need answers to alleviate their fears.
So what to do when a child has questions about COVID and how it will affect their lives.
- Try to normalize their feelings and fears about it. Depending on the age of the child help them understand there is a much lower percentage of children than adults getting really sick and requiring hospitalization. If they have mild symptoms of flu, this is time to allow for requests for special food items that may bring them comfort.
- Help them focus on the promise to return to things they enjoy about their life like playing with friends, participating in sports, and connecting through electronic games and social media platforms.
- If children must isolate, provide them with encouragement that it is not forever and eventually they will be able to return to their lives of school and other activities. Encourage them to reach out to their friends so they can stay connected and not feel lonely. When they are sick, they need reassurance that things will not change, and this will help give them hope.
- Encourage them to write about their feelings or draw pictures. It will provide them with a release to handle the stress and fears they may be facing. Discuss with them what their pictures mean to them so you can help them process their feelings and fears.
- Help them understand that although their lives have changed, this is now the new normal and they should learn to adopt a positive attitude about what they do have and not dwell on what they may have lost. It will help them control the anxiety they may be facing and bring them more happiness.
Cathy is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern at Simply Brave. She is motivated to help people find the answers they are looking for to enjoy happiness, find hope and regain personal strength.