Managing Your Child’s Coronavirus Fear

Tips for Coping with Coronavirus and the Fallout From Media Coverage

The Coronavirus continues to dominate the news and fear is spiraling across the country. Many people, especially parents, want to find the crucial balance between complacency and panic. With many questions still unanswered, here is what we DO know, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • The virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person.
    • Between people who are in close contact with one another (often within about 6 feet)
    • Through respiratory droplets (minutely visible and invisible) produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes
    • These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs
  • Symptoms appear 2–14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Some people lose their sense of taste and/or smell.
  • People are most contagious when they are already sickest, although we know that spread from asymptomatic people is possible, too.
  • There are now more than 1,1 million reported cases in the United States (and 64,000+ known deaths). These numbers will keep rising until the virus is contained or a successful treatment is launched.
  • The mortality rate is low relative to other deadly viruses like SARS (7%) and Ebola (25-90%). Coronavirus has an estimated 1% mortality rate if you take into account that mostly those showing symptoms are getting tested and therefor the number of deaths is a percentage of only those people and not a percentage of everyone who has the disease but is asymptomatic.
  • Those who have sadly passed away as a result of this outbreak are disproportionately older people or those with compromised immune systems or diseases like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes.
  • Children are not disproportionately affected and tend to have very mild symptoms. They are far less at-risk for severe complications than adults and seniors.
  • The disease has no vaccine at the moment but can be treated by medical professionals.

How to Handle this Epidemic with Your Children

World-renowned psychotherapist Dr. Debbie Ellis and expert child therapists from the Center for Child Counseling offer the following advice: Children learn by example and are most likely to mimic your reactions to most events beyond their experience. If you panic, they’re likely to panic. Children are very intuitive. Even if you feel you’re keeping the worst from them, they are picking up your emotions, responses, and attitudes and making up their own stories to explain things. It’s better to offer information in a calm way that’s age-appropriate.

Empower your children by simply using this scary time to reinforce lifelong, healthy habits.

Hand Washing is Key

Set a good example by always insisting on washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, that’s about the same amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday to You” song twice…so use that if you think your kids will find it funny. The water doesn’t need to be scalding hot, which might discourage kids, so keep it warm and make sure to wash palms, fingers, nails, and the backs of their hands. If your child does not like to wash their hands or use hand sanitizers, make it fun for them. Give them a bucket full of soapy warm water and put some toys and cups into it (this is also a great sensory play). You can also decorate your hand sanitizer bottle with craft supplies; make it into a funny person or their favorite animal. Art is always a great family activity.

Sneeze and Cough into Your Folded Elbow

Explain to your children that they should always sneeze and cough into the fold of their elbow. This prevents germs getting on your hands which are far more likely to spread them around because we use our hands to touch objects others are also going to touch like doorknobs and shopping trolleys. If you have a young child (younger than 2) who does not understand this, always carry wipes and hand sanitizer with you. Try to keep young children’s hands out of their mouths. Instead of chewing on their fingers, they can chew on a healthy snack (frozen fruits are great).

Stay Home When Sick

Coronavirus resembles other respiratory illnesses. You should keep your children home from school (and seek medical advice) if they display any symptoms or have trouble with their breathing, especially if they are contagious with a fever, coughing, and sneezing. These guidelines apply to colds and the ’flu as well as Coronavirus.

Here are some tips for parents on managing media-fueled fear over Coronavirus:

1) Don’t Panic
Children sense our emotions, even when we try very hard to hide them; children “just know”. Many of them act out and most of them will develop anxiety from watching their anxious parents’ behaviors. Stress increases cortisol levels in the body which causes inflammation that can weaken the immune system. This is true of adults as well as children.

2) Do Educate & Communicate
Be open with your child; don’t try to hide anything for them because they will find out anyway, whether it’s from a school peer or TV. Explain that there are many microscopic germs and viruses in this world. If they are old enough to know about colds and the ‘flu, explain that Coronavirus is similar to those sicknesses. There are many fun, animated, kid-friendly videos on YouTube about germs, viruses and bacteria. These can be helpful in talking with your child.

3) Don’t Overreact with Masks and Gloves
You risk traumatizing your child and creating a ‘germophobe’ if you wear unnecessary medical equipment. It’s not only visually scary, especially to very young children, but it promotes heightened anxiety and induces stress. Overreacting only makes your children feel as if catching the disease is imminent and inevitable and ramps up fear. Remember, your anxiety perpetuates your child’s anxiety.

4) Do Moderate Your Language
Try not to use threats like: “If you don’t wash your hands, you are going to get sick!” That kind of language only increases your child’s anxiety and threats do not work. Instead, you can say something like: “Let’s wash our hands so we stay healthy!”

5) Do Use this Opportunity to Promote Healthy Habits
Make sure your child gets enough sleep, eats healthy snacks, gets enough vitamins (especially Vitamin C and D), and has limits on his/her screen time. Acknowledge the event but avoid binging on negative or frightening news stories. Often, exposure to the media only serves to exacerbate fears. Get your news from reliable sources like the CDC or the World Health Organization and not from gossip sites or social media. CLICK HERE for a recent article from the Child Mind Institute that provides additional information and practical tips for parents.

Always reassure yourself and your children that we cannot control what’s going on out in the world, but we can control our behaviors and emotions and we can focus on positive things and remain calm.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial