As schools are closing as a precaution against the spread of the Coronavirus, many children are becoming anxious. My friend Alicia Eaton, a Behavioural & Emotional Wellbeing Specialist for adults and children based in London’s Harley Street, has kindly agreed to guest blog regarding this and share her top tips at this time:
Alicia Eaton – How to Talk to Children about the Coronavirus
As the Coronavirus continues to dominate the news, it’s becoming almost impossible to avoid images of people wearing face masks and the stories of impending economic gloom, isn’t it? Meanwhile, severe flooding has occurred in parts of the UK and Ireland while over on the other side of the world, Australia is experiencing bush fires on an unprecedented scale. And Greta Thunberg continues to remind us that time is running out!
Keeping children happy in an age of anxiety is becoming increasingly harder, it seems. Gone are those carefree days when it was easy to stay pretty sheltered from news items. We’re now a 24-hour news society with an endless stream of information filtering into our homes whether we want it or not. Here are my Top Tips for keeping children calm and happy in this age of anxiety:
What are the facts and how likely are you to be in real danger? The Coronavirus will produce just mild symptoms in 4 out of 5 of those affected. Reassure your child that they’re unlikely to catch it but do explain the practical steps they should take to lessen the risk still further. Teach them how to thoroughly wash hands and to cough and sneeze into their elbows and tissues that should be thrown away quickly.
This thought may be running through your child’s mind. They’ll be wondering how this will impact on their own safety. Having seen reports of illness, floods, fires or even acts of terrorism on TV, your child may start wondering whether this is going to happen in the street right outside their home. If possible, reassure your child that this is happening ‘far, far away’. Distance can be hard for children to imagine, so get a map or globe and point out that it’s nowhere near their home or school.
Empathise by using phrases such as: “I can see that you’re feeling worried/scared/anxious and that is understandable. It’s a horrible thing that has happened”. Tell your child that when horrible things happen, there are lots of people who are looking after us and will keep us safe – eg. Government, police, firefighters, doctors, teachers, Mums and Dads who will all ensure that problems will be solved. Always use words that reflect the desired state, such as:
– It’s OK, we’re all safe.
– We can stay calm about this, because it’s happening far, far away.
– We can relax now, because there are plenty of people taking care of this for us.
– The situation is over now – it’s finished.
– Don’t worry.
– Just stop thinking about it.
– Don’t keep going on about it or you’ll just start feeling worse.
– Stop talking about it because you’re starting to scare your little brother! (Say this and don’t be surprised if ‘little brother’ starts crying.) Our minds make pictures or images out of the words that we think or hear. Using a negative word will mean your child will end up doing exactly what you don’t want them to do – worry!
Watching and hearing bad news stories will increase the production of adrenaline and cortisol in the body. Ensure your child has plenty of outlets for burning these stress chemicals off. Increase the amount of exercise they take right now, preferably in the open air, otherwise, their stress levels regarding the coronavirus will simply keep on elevating.
Laughter is another way of changing the brain’s chemistry quickly as the body releases feel-good endorphins. Watch more comedy and funny movies on TV and introduce a ‘good news’ only rule in conversations around the dinner table. Too often it’s easy to fall into the trap of sharing bad news: ‘I missed the bus this morning / got caught in the rain / got pushed over in the playground’. And if you’re short of conversation, keep a joke book to hand and get the kids to read jokes out to the family over dinner.
It may be tempting to make the world seem ‘a happy place’ by giving more treats such as chocolate, sweets, ice-cream and cake, but that will simply add to your child’s ‘wobbly’ feelings and these foods can create mood swings too. The stimulating effects of sugar and caffeine in fizzy and energy drinks will also cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels and this includes natural sugars found in fruit juices and smoothies. Introduce more protein into the diet to help steady your child’s nerves and make them feel more grounded. Good foods to eat plenty of are: wholegrain breads rather than white, fish, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, pulses and fruit and vegetables in general. If your child can eat nuts safely, it’s a good idea to keep some handy for snacks in between meals.
Spend extra time sitting with your child especially at bedtime and listen carefully to their concerns on the coronavirus. Every child is different and depending on their age and temperament will have a different perspective on the news stories. It’s possible to worry your child even more by giving too much information in your conversations, so try to learn what specifically it is that is worrying your child. It may not be as bad as you think and a simple answer may be all that’s required.
|FIRST AID for your CHILD’S MIND is Alicia Eaton’s latest book and came out at the end of last year. |
Whether your child is a ‘constant worrier’, has a fear of injections, spiders, dogs – or could simply do with an extra helping of confidence you’ll find answers and solutions in this book.
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