March 16, 2020 - Atlanta, GA - During difficult times, such as the ones we, as a society, are facing with the outbreak of Covid-19, parents and children may not know how best to express feelings of worry, stress, or anxienty. Thankfully, our International Children's Advisory Network (iCAN), community partner, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has identified some great ways through Healthy Children.org to help better understand and support parents and kids. Through previous traumatic events like 9/11, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, experts have a better view of how to guide parents to be prepared to respond to crises in ways that help their children be resilient.
From AAP's Healthy Children.org, How to Support Your Child's Resilience in a Time of Crisis, it is common for children to have fears based on limited information or from not understanding what they were told about the event. You must first listen to their concerns so you can frame your discussion about the situation appropriately and spare them frightening or unnecessary details. When they finish talking, ask them how they are doing and how you can be helpful to them. Never force your children to talk, but tell them you are there to listen. Your children may be deeply moved or upset but actually need a sense of normalcy. Model that your own way of gaining comfort is by talking about the situation. Let your children see you talking to other adults and observe your relief as you connect with others. Leave the door open for future conversations. They may happen at any time. More helpful tips can be found on the AAP's Healthy Children website "Talking to Your Child About Tragedies and Other Events".
There are also ways to help cope during difficult times. The AAP recommends this helpful list of at-home support.
1.) Take care of yourself first. Children depend on the adults around them to be and feel safe and secure. If you are very anxious or angry, children are likely to be more affected by your emotional state than by your words. Find someone you trust to help with your personal concerns.
2.) Watch for unusual behavior that may suggest your child is having difficulty dealing with disturbing events. Stress-related symptoms to be aware of include
depressed or irritable moodssleep disturbances, including increased sleeping, difficulty falling asleep, nightmares or nighttime waking, changes in appetite, either increased or decreased, social withdrawal, obsessive play, such as repetitively acting out the traumatic event, which interferes with normal activitieshyperactivity that was not previously present.
3.) Talk about the event with your child. To not talk about it makes the event even more threatening in your child’s mind. Silence suggests that what has occurred is too horrible to even speak of. Start by asking what your child has already heard about the events and what understanding he or she has reached. As your child explains, listen for misinformation, misconceptions, and underlying fears or concerns.Explain—as simply and directly as possible—the events that occurred. The amount of information that will be helpful to a child depends on his or her age. For example, older children generally want and will benefit from more detailed information than younger children. Because every child is different, take cues from your own child as to how much information to provide.
4.) Limit television viewing of terrorist events or other disasters, especially for younger children. When older children watch television, try to watch with them and use the opportunity to discuss what is being seen and how it makes you and your child feel.
5.) Encourage your child to ask questions, and answer those questions directly. Like adults, children are better able to cope with a crisis if they feel they understand it. Question-and-answer exchanges help to ensure ongoing support as your child begins to understand the crisis and the response to it.
6.) Don’t force the issue with your child. Instead, extend multiple invitations for discussion and then provide an increased physical and emotional presence as you wait for him or her to be ready to accept those invitations. Recognize that your child may appear disinterested. In the aftermath of a crisis, younger children may not know or understand what has happened or its implications. Older children and adolescents, who are used to turning to their peers for advice, may initially resist invitations from parents and other caregivers to discuss events and their personal reactions. Or, they may simply not feel ready to discuss their concerns.
7.) Reassure children of the steps that are being taken to keep them safe. Terrorist attacks and other disasters remind us that we are never completely safe from harm. Now more than ever it is important to reassure children that, in reality, they should feel safe in their schools, homes, and communities.
8.) Consider sharing your feelings about the event or crisis with your child. This is an opportunity for you to role model how to cope and how to plan for the future. Before you reach out, however, be sure that you are able to express a positive or hopeful plan.
9.) Help your child to identify concrete actions he or she can take to help those affected by recent events. Rather than focus on what could have been done to prevent a terrorist attack or other disaster, concentrate on what can be done now to help those affected by the event.
To learn more about talking to your children, vist "Responding to Children's Emotional Needs During Times of Crisis". It is important to note that if you have additional concerns about your child’s behavior, contact your child’s pediatrician, other primary care provider, or a qualified mental health care specialist for assistance. United together, iCAN and the APP support our youth members and families around the world as we bridge together during this difficult time. Don't forget to check out our website for things to do, additional articles to help support children, and updates on registration for the upcoming summit.