For many of us in Europe and the United States, Covid-19 is still an abstract phenomenon brought into our lives via mass media, the internet, and social media. On one hand, the virus itself hasn’t generated direct encounters or experiences for most of us. On the other hand, this phantom-like threat of becoming infected by a virus generates very real diffuse fears and anxieties, the causes of which are tough to understand.
This feeling of being threatened can lead to more anxiety and panic, if feelings of helplessness or indifference grow without strategies or ideas for action.
For parents, dealing with Covid is a daily challenge of gathering and filtering information that we receive second or third hand from the media. When children access the mobile flow of information with their own smartphones and tablets, parental monitoring becomes an even bigger challenge.
As parents juggle this tidal wave of information, opinions, and emotions, the most important thing we can do is to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open for our children’s questions, fears, and ideas.
We want to encourage children to feel curiosity more than worry. This curiosity should encourage them to communicate with us openly about how they are feeling and what they want to know about the virus. Expressed feelings and asked questions give parents a window into how their children are handling the situation and how our childrens’ understanding and emotions are interacting in the context of the crisis.
The better facts can be understood, the easier it is for children to feel secure in the situation.
Parents should understand how much information is necessary for their children to feel secure. Playing down the virus or not answering questions and concerns can generate mistrust. Providing too much information, on the other hand, can frustrate children and lead to resignation. A good rule of thumb is to answer questions with very simple, child-appropriate answers and only expand on your answers as the children ask for more information.
By explaining our own assessments and emotions, parents model healthy reasoning and help children to learn how we reassure ourselves. Therefore, parents need to stay informed about new developments to anticipate issues, questions, and fears that children may bring up. It is also important to know what sources of information our children are using when we are not around and how they are communicating with their peers. Developmental psychology shows us that in times of social unrest it is crucial to structure normal family life enough to provide the security and calmness needed to deal with changes and potential dangers.
For example, great ways to structure family life during homeschooling and to normalize a non-normal situation include creating family schedules and setting daily routines, getting dressed in regular school clothes during the day without lounging around in pajamas making sure children take breaks to move, to be offline, and to talk to friends, if they are working online for school for long periods of time.
Finally, parents can embrace this new phase as a time to learn and practice self-compassion and compassion for others. The shared experience of anxiety and resilience will be an important lesson in developing a sense of community that can positively affect children long after the COVID-19 crisis is over. In mastering this challenge, families can discover (or rediscover) their strengths and resources to better meet future fears and crises.