With COVID-19, commonly referred to as the coronavirus, officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization last week, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declaring all schools will remain closed until at least April 15, children are experiencing upheaval and uncertainty in their day-to-day lives as adults.
Jessica Leon is a psychotherapist, life coach, licensed clinical social worker and certified brain health coach who runs a private practice called Therapist to Go and lives in Weston. She offers useful tips on how to best speak to your child about the ongoing and unprecedented events.
For starters, be mindful of free time. Start creating new habits and engage in activities that reduce stress levels and increase our immune system such as meditation, yoga, drawing, listening to music and doing art.
“I really try to emphasize that when I give instructions or suggestions, they’re not just arbitrary because
they’re theory or philosophically that would be what would work best,” Leon says. “There’s scientific evidence behind the chemicals we release when we are in a calm place, as opposed to when we have stress.”
How you tailor your conversation about the current health crisis varies depending on your child’s age. Leon breaks it down for parents.
For children ages 3-6:
Keep it simple. Explain to your child the importance of healthy hygiene habits, like washing your hands, particularly after coughing, sneezing and using the bathroom. Let them know this is something we should always practice, but need to be especially mindful of now to keep everyone safe.
Leon suggests explaining, “We always have to do this because sometimes there’s flu bugs that can get in our body and make us feel sick. Right now, there’s a big flu bug so everyone has to be careful.”
She urges all parents to help young children focus on creating something positive, like working on a puzzle or art project, to help manage feelings of fear or uncertainty children might be experiencing.
“Help kids not get stuck on the negative, and focus more on what can they do now that they get to stay home. Just tap into that creativity,” Leon says.
For children ages 7-12:
For this age group, the message remains the same, with a bit more focus on remaining connected with friends and helpful with the community. Kids at this age generally have access to the internet, so the idea of using that to tap into their sense of empathy is a helpful coping mechanism. Explore with your child ways they can help others.
“Thankfully, most of us have homes with food, but there really is that whole other side of life that people aren’t aware of,” Leon says. Using the internet to get ideas to help those less fortunate will help this age group feel productive and empowered during this difficult time.
On the flip side, Leon advises that parents need to be vigilant of the amount of time kids are on social media.
“Sometimes the boundaries of being exposed to social media is so inappropriate that it’s overkill,” Leon adds, explaining encountering too much unreliable information can be a source of stress. “Make sure your child only accesses one reliable source of information before moving on to something that brings them joy and calm.”
For children ages 12-18:
Leon encourages offering teens the opportunity to do something with a purpose, instead of brooding over circumstances like canceled sport events, spring break trips and possibly prom parties and graduation dates. She suggests adolescents find a way to give back, like making friendship bracelets as a bond for these unusual circumstances.
Use this time to start something new or learning a new skill. Leon emphasizes finding a balance among the physical—that is, some kind of movement every day—emotional—such as a hobby or activity that brings joy—and spiritual—“how you connect with yourself, with a greater purpose and with others.” She suggests activities such as journaling and meditating for the latter.
Maintaining a sense of normalcy is key for all age groups, and for teens, online connectivity is key.
“The whole idea of who we are on earth is to connect, and we’re actually being asked, just physically, to disconnect. This is the one time we can take advantage of the internet,” she says, adding that TED Talks, podcasts and applications such as TikTok are great ways for teens to maintain a level of normalcy in their lives.