By Mica von Turkovich
8 min read
A letter from a formerly anxious child…
I have been mentally preparing for this scenario since 2005 when I first learned what a pandemic was. I was in sixth grade and news of the bird flu (H5N1) was spreading around the world. I was at my friend Lucy’s house and her mom was filling us in on the potential of this flu turning into a pandemic. She was explaining how we might all have to be homeschooled for a while and wouldn’t be able to see our friends. She had recently stocked up on supplies in case we all had to stay inside for a long period. When they showed me their pantry, filled with cans of food and bottled water, my heart sank. I thought about the pantry at my house. We had a healthy amount of food for everyday life but nothing like this doomsday preparation I was witnessing. I started to panic and the rest of the playdate was agonizing, counting down the minutes until I could get in my mom’s car and let out the cry that I was holding in my throat.
The thing is, my parents hadn’t mentioned anything to me, or my sisters, about this potential health crisis. This was the first I was hearing about “the bird flu,” and I was hearing it from a very worried adult. My parents are pretty relaxed people. They aren’t ones to panic and I appreciate that because I am the opposite. I panic. My playdate ended and my mom picked me up. We sat in the car; she settled me down and explained the situation in more detail and in a healthy way that a sixth-grader could understand. She patiently answered all of my questions and allowed me to talk through the horrible scenarios I had created in my head over the last two hours. She did her best to put my mind at ease. Once I understood all of the accurate information, I felt like I had more control over the situation.
This need for control became a common theme throughout my life. Feeling like you have no control over a situation can trigger anxiety and instill unnecessary fear. Whenever I have tried new things in life, like bungee jumping or surfing, I have felt more confident after watching others go before me. When I had seen enough people walk back onto the beach unharmed, or take off the bungee harness with a big smile on their face, I had the confidence to try it myself. By studying others’ experiences, I was able to determine whether it was safe for me to step outside my comfort zone. This need for information to combat anxiety is a natural coping mechanism that can be especially helpful for kids and young adults. As we all know, the bird flu did not result in a worldwide pandemic. However, here we are 15 years later coping with one now.
How to Talk With Your Child About COVID-19
For parents, it is instinctual to want to protect your kids from frightening world events. However, children worry so much more when they are kept in the dark. At the end of the day, they’re going to hear about it one way or another. We live in a time where kids are collecting information from so many different sources, whether they are seeking it or not. If they are on social media, have access to the internet or chat with friends over the phone, they are going to hear about COVID-19.
As a parent, you have the opportunity to provide your child with information in a tone that feels much more reassuring than what friends or memes on social media are saying. The following are a few suggestions.
Let Them Ask the Questions
Rather than overwhelming children with all the information you have, let them lead the conversation. Be present and patient while you answer your child’s questions. This can go a long way in keeping your child from going down a rabbit hole of frightening fantasies.
Provide Kids With Tools to Stay Healthy
Help children feel in control by sharing what you are doing to keep your family safe and what they can do to keep themselves safe as well. You can explain that the CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands for 20 seconds or more throughout the day to keep you and others healthy. Reinforce the importance of social distancing and how this could be key in preventing the spread of the virus. For younger children, it could be helpful to measure out six feet so they can visualize what this looks like. Find something around the house that is six feet long. A twin size bed is about the right length from head to foot. Or if a family member happens to be six feet tall that works too!
Introduce Habits to Keep the Mind and Body Happy and Healthy
Practicing mindfulness and daily exercise can help keep your mental health in check. Physical activity can improve a child’s mood by helping the brain cope with stress. There are some awesome kid-friendly workouts on YouTube. If YouTube isn’t an option, put on an upbeat song or playlist and have a dance party. That will surely get your heart rate up and body moving.
Practicing mindfulness can be as easy as taking a walk and paying attention to the sound of the wind moving the grass or the birds chirping. Body check-ins are another great mindfulness activity for both kids and adults. Sit still or lie down. Do a scan of your body from head to toe. Is your jaw clenched? Release it. Are your shoulders tense? Lower them. Some people find these activities to be very helpful and calming. Discover what works for you and your family.
During mealtime, talk with your child about the healthy foods you are eating and how they benefit your health. For example, if you are snacking on orange slices, talk about Vitamin C in an orange and how it can boost your immune system, which helps your body fight off germs. Having these tools and information can help children feel in control of their health and wellbeing.
Cope With Your Anxiety Before Helping Your Child Cope
We have all heard the oxygen mask instruction on airplanes. You need to put your oxygen mask on first before helping others with theirs. If you don’t take care of your own emotional and physical health you will not be as capable of taking care of anyone else. During this strange time children will be monitoring the adults in their lives for signs of stress to determine how they should be feeling. Make sure you are in a healthy state of mind before you have any conversations with children about COVID-19.
Your mental health as a parent is important. Find time for yourself amidst the chaos. Try not to compare your life with seemingly perfect lives you see on Instagram. Don’t feel guilty for letting your kids have screen time, especially if it gives you the necessary free time to do something for yourself. We all know the negative side effects of too much screen time; however, you can find a happy medium by monitoring what children are consuming and limiting the amount of time they are spending on it daily. Find what works best for you and your child.
Keep the Line of Communication Open
Continue spending quality time with your child and answering any questions. While you might not have all of the answers, make sure your kids know that you will keep them in the loop as you learn more each day. Make a point to share stories with them that focus on positive news. There are countless uplifting stories of people recovering from the virus and selfless acts of kindness all over the internet.
Develop Healthy Routines at Home
Keep the energy positive and familiar around the house. A great way to do this is by keeping somewhat of a daily schedule while also adding in fun spontaneity. That can be as simple as having a picnic outside (if the weather permits), having a family sleepover in the living room or making breakfast for dinner! Suggestions for more fun family activities follow.
Keeping the Mood Happy at Home
Play a little background music throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be distracting. There are awesome playlists on Spotify and YouTube made for studying and focus if you are homeschooling.
Make breakfast for dinner. Who doesn’t love pancakes for dinner!
Learn a new language together. Try a free language app such as Duolingo.
Make each day of the week a different dress-up theme.
Make a fort and have a family sleepover in the living room.
Plant a garden if you have outdoor space. If you don’t have access to a yard there are many plants that you can grow indoors. kidsgardening.org is a wonderful resource.
Read. Reading is a fantastic way to get lost in your imagination and forget about the world around you. Books on tape are great options as well.
Do a family workout every day. Dance parties count!
Make a bucket-list of all the things your kids want to do once things return to normal.
Let the kids turn your house into a restaurant at mealtime.
Get the kids involved with cooking. Letting them help prepare vegetables or mix gives them a purpose and instills confidence. (Bonus, this could result in some time off for you down the road!)
Ask your child to help with the dishes. Toddlers especially love doing dishes! Fill the sink with soapy water and let them scrub away. It’s a perfect pre-wash before you load the dishwasher.
Make thank-you cards or draw pictures for the mail carrier.
Make up your own 20-second-hand-washing song.
If you have a sewing machine, make face masks together. The CDC offers easy-to-follow directions and guidelines for homemade face coverings.
Create some routines for daily activities, such as breakfast, exercise time, reading, playtime, school work, and so on. Rigidity is not the point, but routines like this can help with teaching important life skills such as telling time and developing time management skills.
Although this self-isolation can feel unsettling and difficult, take advantage of the quality time you are getting to spend together as a family. Embrace it. These could be the sweetest memories to look back on if you choose to see it that way. Be kind to yourself and most importantly, don’t forget to breathe.
Born and raised in The Green Mountain State of Vermont, Mica von Turkovich currently resides in Los Angeles, CA. Mica is a writer, taking on subjects ranging from mental health and fitness to environmental topics, personal essays and beyond. She is also a NASM certified fitness trainer who strongly believes that exercise makes you happy! To read more from Mica check out her blog Love, Mica or follow her on Instagram at @mica_chu.
Coronavirus attacking your Mental Health? Check out the below BroglieBox articles:
Coronavirus Youth Mental Health Resources
Can we talk about something else? 100 Things to talk about that aren’t about the Coronavirus.
4 Ways To Stay Resilient No Matter What Happens
Mental Health Tips for Parents, Families, Children During School/Child Care Closings
Benefits of Virtual Therapy (And Where To Find It)
The BroglieBox Quarantine Box (pictured above) is the perfect care-package to help optimize your mental health and aid in stress relief! Each box contains items in varying categories like mindfulness, sleep, aromatherapy, gratitude, fitness, and more.