Supporting Youth During COVID-19
The saying that “nothing is certain except uncertainty” has never been more true than today. This year’s Salem State University Center for Childhood and Youth Studies symposium focusing on preventing and addressing trauma had to be postponed due to a new form of trauma – COVID-19, the coronavirus.
Nobody alive has ever lived through a situation like this in our country. We are all going through a learning curve trying to identify best practices to keep healthy. The national conversation has focused on: identifying virus symptoms; how to curb disease spread; problems faced by healthcare systems; and the virus’s economic impact. While those things are important, so are impacts of COVID-19 on children.
Lives of children are in chaos thanks to the virus. In order to curb spread of the virus, most children are staying home.
Their normal routines are disrupted since they can’t go to school, daycare or engage in after-school activities.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that they don’t get together with other children outside of their immediate family. This means they’re spending a lot of time at home.
This unexpected family togetherness can result in more time to get to know each other. We have more opportunities to talk, play games, tell stories, read books, do art projects, cook, make music, watch movies, sing, dance, create new experiences and laugh.
Many parents may not have the luxury of staying home. They have to go into their place of employment with few good options for how to ensure their children are safe and constructively engaged. Parents who work remotely from home have to balance these responsibilities with caring for their children and keeping them busy.
Some parents have lost their jobs during the pandemic, which causes extreme stress. Conflicts may occur from too much “togetherness,” money issues, and arguments over normally mundane things like homework, TV, computers, phones or even how much toilet paper one uses. Child abuse or domestic violence may result.
Children watch how parents deal with these challenges. Challenges create opportunities for good role-modeling on how to deal with uncertainty. Here are some suggestions to help:
Keep routines when you get up, eat, exercise, do schoolwork and go to bed – it creates certainty in an uncertain world.
Talk to your children about the virus in a developmentally appropriate way. Children have heard about the virus and may be confused or scared. They trust you to tell them the truth.
Teach them about how to find accurate information about the virus and what experts recommend to keep them safe.
Listen to their concerns. People they love or hear about may get sick or die. Reassure them that adults are doing everything they can to keep everyone safe.
Make sure to keep your own anxiety in check.
Empower children as partners or “health warriors.” Share with them things you are doing to keep them safe. Encourage them to do things like washing their hands, covering their mouth when they cough, and waiting until it’s safe to get together with friends.
Social-distance but don’t isolate; connect creatively and safely.
Know signs of stress. These include sadness, crying, anger, depression, anxiety, restlessness, fatigue, eating or sleeping changes. Substance use or self-harming could occur. They are cries for help. React with support.
Engage children to teach you about their schoolwork. Explore technology, science, history, math, social studies and languages together in fun, creative ways.
Work with community leaders to provide healthy child-supportive resources. It is unclear how long the pandemic will last. Children and parents need help now.
SAMSHA, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, offers advice on how engage in social distancing without becoming isolated, along with other resource, at samhsa.gov/coronavirus.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness offers virus information and coping strategies related to COVID-19: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/March-2020/Coronavirus-Mental-Health-Coping-Strategies.
Child Mind provides suggestions on how to talk with children about the virus: https://childmind.org/article/talking-to-kids-about-the-coronavirus/.
The Center for Childhood and Youth Studies conducts workshops, research, advocacy and works with partners across the commonwealth. Contact us if we can be of assistance to you. Our Preventing and Addressing Trauma symposium will be rescheduled when the pandemic is past. Check this website for updates: https://www.salemstate.edu/ccys
Yvonne Vissing, Ph.D., is a professor of health care studies, director of the Center for Childhood & Youth Studies at Salem State University. She the author of “Changing the Paradigm of Homelessness.”