As COVID-19 makes its way to the United States, Americans are experiencing unprecedented isolation and social distancing as a means to prevent the spread of the disease. While these precautions are necessary for the greater public health, they can be hard to fully understand, especially for children. Sara DeWitt, Vice President, PBS KIDS Digital, shared a few ways to help adults and kids cope with the coronavirus anxiety that comes with our new normal.
Keep Information Age-Appropriate
The science behind social distancing is clear to adults, but children may have a harder time grasping the need for containment. DeWitt recommends keeping it simple, especially with young children. She suggests relating to their own experiences when they may have been sick and had to stay at home and rest or maybe even visit the doctor to feel better.
It’s also important to be reassuring and remind them that medical professionals are here to help in this very situation. She says it’s wise to remind younger children, “Doctors and nurses are working right now to help all of us stay healthy.”
Find Media That Helps Them Understand
Helping kids understand how germs work will help them grasp the concept of social distancing. Asking your children to help stop the spread of germs by washing their hands, not getting too close to others and to be mindful of what they’re touching will help them feel empowered and realize there are ways they can help.
PBS KIDS is working to provide parents and kids with tools to help foster understanding. This short video helps children understand how germs travel with the help of Curious George.
Ask Them What They Know
It can be daunting to try to explain some of the big words like “pandemic” and “quarantine” associated with Coronavirus to kids. DeWitt says you might not have to, “A good rule of thumb for anything like this is to start the conversation by saying ‘tell me what you know about this, what have you heard?’ and really listen to the words kids use.”
Parents can inadvertently over-explain and possibly frighten kids. DeWitt recommends finding out what they know, correcting any misinformation and answering their questions. At the same time, it’s important to reassure your children and talk about all that’s being done by adults and kids to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Remember: They’re Watching You
Kids will pick up on their parents’ reactions and stress levels. “We need to think about what we as grown-ups are reading in front of our kids and what our body language and reactions are saying to our kids,” DeWitt says.
Model social distancing and explain that while this disease may not affect our family, we want to try to stop the spread of germs for the sake of our neighbors and friends.
Utilize technology like Skype or Facetime to interact with friends or relatives you might not be able to see in person. Scheduling this socialization will give kids something to look forward to and help them feel less isolated.
Establish a Routine and Consistency
The time frame of these circumstances is unknown. Most parents don’t have an answer when they’re asked, “how long will this go on?” by their children. DeWitt suggests sharing what you do know, utilizing a calendar to explain how many days school will definitely be closed.
Make a daily and weekly calendar to help kids break it down into smaller, digestible pieces, DeWitt says. Give kids a daily schedule that includes schoolwork, playtime, downtime, etc. that will help them understand what to expect.
Try to incorporate any pieces from their regular school routine that you can as well as activities you know reduce their stress, like outside play, art or music. In an effort to support parents and kids with additional resources, PBS KIDS has launched a daily newsletter that uses media as a jumping-off point for learning at home with games, offline activities, as well as resources for parents.
Give Yourself a Break
Screen time may be a very necessary thing right now for parents and kids. Even screen time experts agree, the regular screen time rules do not apply. DeWitt says it’s more important what media your children are consuming than how long they’re watching.
Choose carefully. Try to pick varied media, possibly that you’ve seen before that will foster follow-up conversation and interaction. Most importantly in the midst of this new normal, DeWitt says, “Parents need to give themselves a bit of break. We all just need to take a deep breath and be as kind as possible to ourselves.”
Coronavirus Anxiety: Sources
Sara DeWitt, Vice President, PBS KIDS Digital