From disruptions in daily life to fears about COVID-19 itself, it’s an anxious time for children as well as parents juggling work concerns with an intensified home life. And while there’s no perfect answer when children ask worried questions, there are tried-and-true strategies parents can draw on to keep concerns in check.

Neha Chaudhary, MD, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital shares a few tips.

Answer honestly. “Parents should be prepared for some kids to ask the extreme questions, like what happens if someone dies, and whether something is going to happen to them or their parents,” says Dr. Chaudhary. Research shows that kids fill in the blanks – with inaccurate information – when parents attempt to hide what’s happening. Instead, parents should gauge what their children already know, then build on that with age-appropriate, science-driven information. And if children are not asking questions, parents should check in regularly to see if they have any questions they’re hesitant to ask.

Tap the experts. Need help answering, “Why?” Draw on an already-created resource like BrainPOP or NPR’s comic to share the ins and outs of the virus and why washing hands is a must.

Turn off screens and head outdoors. Research after 9/11 indicated that too much exposure to media coverage isn’t a good thing. “Parents can support their kids by turning off the news as much as they can and instead explaining what’s going on in a way that’s clear and calm,” says Dr. Chaudhary. “This eliminates uncertainty, confusion and lack of understanding from watching the news directly.” Instead, stay busy and be sure to get outdoors, weather permitting, and get the exercise that’s proven to boost both physical and mental health.

Keep it real. Parents can and should accentuate the positive when possible and strive for normalizing routines. But when concerns arise, it’s important to acknowledge that worry and sadness are normal at a time like this. “Whatever they may be feeling, parents should focus on making sure that kids feel validated and seen – that their feelings are real and that it's okay for them to feel what they are feeling,” says Dr. Chaudhary. And a small dose of empathy goes far. “Let your child know that you know how upsetting it must be and that you wish things could be different. Then reiterate what the rules are and that the goal is to keep everyone safe. That’s the best you can do right now as a parent,” she adds.

Read more tips in Forbes.

To stay up to date on Coronavirus preparedness, please reference our ongoing Partners HealthCare resources and announcement page here.

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