Supporting Students During the COVID-19 Outbreak
A new type of coronavirus, abbreviated COVID-19, is causing an outbreak of respiratory (lung) disease. It was first detected in China and has now been detected internationally. While the immediate health risk in the United States is still low for most Americans, it is important to plan for any possible outbreaks if the risk level increases in the future.
It is helpful to distinguish between the facts and the inevitable emotions in the situation. Enclosed you will find links to resources explaining the facts of COVID 19 and resources about how to handle the stress and emotional reactions involved.
There will be many reactions to this worldwide pandemic and none of them are wrong. For example, if you are a first responder in the health-care field you may react with little to no emotion as you work to protect our community. If you have a parent in a nursing home your reaction may be much different as you prepare your family to work through fear and sadness.
It is very important to remember that children look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. If parents seem overly worried, children’s anxiety may rise. Parents should reassure children that health and school officials are working hard to ensure that people throughout the country stay healthy. However, children also need factual, age appropriate information about the potential seriousness of disease risk and concrete instruction about how to avoid infections and spread of disease. Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking with them about their fears, and giving them a sense of some control over their risk of infection can help reduce anxiety.
Make distinctions for yourself and your children between your fears and worries AND the facts about COVID 19.
Not all children respond to stress in the same way. Some common changes to watch for in children:
- Excessive crying and irritation
- Returning to behaviors they have outgrown (e.g., toileting accidents or bedwetting)
- Excessive worry or sadness
- Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits
- Irritability and “acting out” behaviors
- Difficulty with attention and concentration
- Avoidance of activities enjoyed in the past
- Unexplained headaches or body pain
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs
There are many things you can do to support your child:
- Take time to talk with your child about the COVID-19 outbreak. Answer questions and share facts about COVID-19 in a way that your child can understand. Keep their age in mind. You would talk to a six year old differently than a 15 year old. You will be setting the emotional tone of the conversation and it will guide your child on how to handle their own emotions.
- Take your cues from your child. Invite your child to tell you anything they may have heard about the coronavirus, and how they feel. Give them ample opportunity to ask questions. You want to be prepared to answer (but not prompt) questions. Your goal is to avoid encouraging frightening fantasies.
- Reassure your child that they are safe. Let them know if is ok if they feel upset. Share with them how you deal with your own stress so that they can learn how to cope from you.
- Limit your child’s exposure to media coverage of the event. Children may misinterpret what they hear and can be frightened about something they do not understand. You are the filter by which your student can navigate the media.
- Be reassuring. Children are very egocentric, so hearing about the coronavirus on the news may be enough to make them seriously worry that they’ll catch it. It’s helpful to reassure your child about how rare the coronavirus actually is (the flu is much more common) and that kids actually seem to have milder symptoms.
- Help your child to have a sense of structure. Once it is safe to return to school or child care, help them return to their regular activity.
- Be a role model; take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connect with your friends and family members and rely on your social support system.
- Focus on what you’re doing to stay safe. An important way to reassure kids is to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking. Jamie Howard, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, notes, “Kids feel empowered when they know what to do to keep themselves safe.” We know that the coronavirus is transmitted mostly by coughing and touching surfaces. The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands as the primary means of staying healthy. So remind kids that they are taking care of themselves by washing their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom. If kids ask about face masks, explain that the experts at the CDC say they aren’t necessary for most people. If kids see people wearing face masks, explain that those people are being extra cautious.
- Deal with your own anxiety. “When you’re feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to your kids about what’s happening with the coronavirus,” warns Dr. Domingues. If you notice that you are feeling anxious, take some time to calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions.
- Stick to routine.. Make sure you are taking care of the basics just like you would during a spring break or summer vacation. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of keeping kids happy and healthy.
- Keep talking. Tell kids that you will continue to keep them updated as you learn more.
The following links are explanations of the COVID 19 virus facts:
Video for older students to explain the virus:
The following links are explanations of emotional reactions in children:
Much of the information provided came from the American Association of School Counselors website and sponsored links.