Family and Children Communication Tools During COVID‑19

We would all like a break from the constant anxiety and information overload that has been sparked from the growing Coronavirus Pandemic. Times like this can be stressful—for individuals, families, kids and entire communities. Fear and anxiety are common responses to uncertainty, feelings of isolation and disrupted daily routines, and can become overwhelming. However, if we take proactive steps to remain healthy, safe, and connected with one another we will be able to better manage our emotions and to re-establish some level of normalcy in our daily routines. So, as we all come to terms with the challenges we are experiencing, remember that providing support to our loved ones is crucial more now than ever. Here are some ways to provide support to family members and children.

Let them be heard
When dealing with anxious loved ones, the most important skill to learn is to listen. They want to know that you are listening to their concerns. Often, we go instantly into solution mode. Leave space for simply listening. When ready, it is ok to ask open-ended questions like “how are you feeling?” or “what can I do to make you feel better?” Listen to their answers and work together in processing their thoughts.

Provide Structure
Let family members know what to expect. Explain your schedule and routine for the day/night if you have one. People thrive when they have structure; provide that for your family if you can.

Explain the what and the why
Most people’s fear’s come from being in an unfamiliar situation and not knowing what to expect. To help minimize anxiety, let them know what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Prepare yourself for stressful situations
Prepare yourself to “practice your patience.” Use this as an opportunity to train yourself to remain calm in stressful situations.

Also, know how negative emotional responses like anxiety or fear are activated in your body. Maybe it’s a knot in your stomach, a fast heart rate, or tense muscles. Recognize these feelings and take a few deep breaths before heading into your next task.

Talking with children

If you’re struggling with how to talk to your kids about the coronavirus, you’re not alone. Here are some helpful tools to consider.

Don’t Wait Too Long to Have the Conversation
As a parent, often our first thought is to protect, even if that means minimizing the situation. But in cases like this, being honest, and providing factual information is a parent’s best defense. Teaching about COVID-19 is like teaching about anything; it has to be done in the context of their world.

Determine What your Child Knows
Ask your child to tell you what they know about the coronavirus. Encourage them to share everything they’ve heard or read, even if they think it’s a rumor. The information you gather from this conversation can help you determine which facts you need to share first.

Be Empathic and Don’t Dismiss Their Fears
Your child’s fears may seem unreasonable or unrealistic to you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t see them as real or valid. Before you talk about facts, listen to their concerns, and don’t dismiss their fears. By hearing them out, you will be able to determine how you should direct the conversation.

Stick to the Facts
This may seem obvious, but the information you share with your children should come from one or two sources. This can help minimize confusion.

Keep the Information Age-Appropriate
How you discuss it will differ depending on the age of the child. Younger children may need physical proximity while you talk to them. Consider sitting in a way so they are eye level with you.

For elementary-aged children, reinforce what to do: washing hands with soap and water while singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice, not touching your face, and coughing and sneezing into the crook of your elbow.
If you have middle and high school kids, the best approach is to talk about the facts and avoid placing your frustration or fears upon your children. Also, stress the importance of practicing good hygiene and staying home from school or sports if they’re not feeling well.

Be Aware of Their Behavior
Many kids struggle with expressing their fear and concerns verbally. Depending on your child’s age, they may or may not have the communication skills to say how they are feeling, but most children and teens show their worries through their behavior. Signs of stress and anxiety to look for include headaches, stomach aches, or sleep problems.

One way to combat this is to be present and engaged (that means no phones) and see what your child is telling you. Are they expressing anger and frustration too easily? Or maybe they are withdrawing? Those behavioral signs give us clear indicators of how your child is feeling, and should be your alert that they need better support.

Talk about your Work as an Essential Employee
As an essential employee, who travels to and from the prison environment on a daily basis, there is a high likelihood that both your children and adult family members are feeling increased levels of anxiety, worry, fear, and anger because you are working in a high-risk environment.

Take time to talk with your family about what your role at work is, why you are considered an essential employee, why it is so important for you to continue to go into work, and the steps you are taking to ensure your personal health and safety before, during, and after your work shift. Share your feelings and allow your family members to ask questions and provide them with age-appropriate responses so that they can better understand the things about your job that are making them feel unsettled.

Find a Balance with School and Work at Home
Part of our new normal is a home full of people trying to attend both school and work simultaneously. This is probably a huge change for everyone and can come with a lot of mixed feelings. For instance, some kids may be excited to stay home while others may be grieving the loss of milestone activities including sports, performances, proms, graduations, and even just the daily connections with their friends. While as parents, many are used to going into an office to start their day away from the distractions of cleaning, parenting, caregiving for other family members, and managing other household responsibilities. Additionally, leaving the home to go to work allows for social connections and personal independence which may feel lost when remaining at home.

To adjust to this kind of change be open to having candid conversations with everyone in the home.

  • Sit down and talk about what this type of change means for each member of the household and acknowledge any feelings of fear or loss.
  • Discuss the specific things that are needed to help make both the school day and the workday more successful for everyone.
  • Consider designating specific school and workspaces in your home.
  • Set boundaries around interruptions, breaks, and end of the day activities because it is likely that the school day will end prior to the workday.

Though it might be difficult at first to begin these conversations, keep in mind that afterward, both you and your child will likely feel better after discussing fears and concerns as well as identifying proactive measures we can all take.

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