Comment aider nos enfants à faire face à l'épidémie de coronavirus. 

As the School Psychologist for the Lycee Français Jean Mermoz and a parent myself, I thought it would be beneficial to share with you some guidelines on how to help our children cope better with the outbreak of the coronavirus. 

I know that as parents no matter what we hear we are going to worry; this is the distinctive core of parenthood. Although we still don’t have enough data regarding coronavirus in the younger population, recent studies have nevertheless shown that children have been much less infected with the virus compared to adults. This being said, it is however crucial to keep them safe and support them emotionally.

Most of our children have heard the news of the coronavirus outbreak for the past few weeks. From being exposed to adults’ conversations, to hearing the news on TV or through social media, wherever they are, they hear this new scary word: “Coronavirus”. Understandably so, this can generate anxiety and fear and most parents have been struggling with the thought of having to constantly reassure and protect their children. 

Below are some guidelines that I would like to share with you all: 

  1. Keep the lines of communication open with your children:
    Our children have witnessed sudden and unpredicted changes in their lives, from not going to school anymore, to being newly introduced to distance learning, seeing people wearing face masks and having to compulsively wash their hands; all of this makes them uncertain and creates anxiety. This is why the more we keep them in the dark, the more worried they become. Our goal is to help our children feel informed about the virus and get fact-based information that is likely more reassuring than whatever they’re hearing from their friends or on the news.

  2. Be age- appropriate when giving information:
    Mind your child’s age when volunteering information and be careful that whatever you are sharing is not overwhelming for their age. Make an effort to answer their questions as honestly and clearly. It’s perfectly fine if you cannot answer everything; being available to your child is what matters most. I also advise you to encourage them to tell you everything they may have heard about the coronavirus from their friends, our goal here is to educate them without scaring them and to avoid any misconception.

  3. Deal with your own anxiety first:
    Be very careful about your own verbal transmission of information in front of your child. Saying something like “I am terrified to be isolated from my family” could create immense fear in your child. If you realize that your anxiety is increasing, take some time off and wait until you calm down before trying to have a conversation or answer your child’s questions. If you sense that your child is anxious and scared, you can encourage him to draw how he perceives the Coronavirus and what feelings this virus is creating in him (in order to encourage the expression of emotions). You can also shed the light on the big number of people who have survived and healed rather than sharing information about the number of people infected (looking at the bright side). 

  4. Stay safe:
    We all know that children are observational learners and adopt what is known for “learned behavior”. Hence, it is important to emphasize the safety precautions that you are taking so that your children do the same and feel more empowered. Explain to them that they should be washing their hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds (or the length of two “Happy Birthday” songs) when they come in from outside, before they eat, and after coughing, sneezing or using the bathroom.
    It is also vital to keep them at a safe distance from people around them. Explain that “social distancing” is crucial for everyone’s protection and to curb the spread of the virus.

  5. Stick to the routines as much as possible:
    We are creatures of habit and uncertainty leaves us feeling anxious. So, sticking to routines is very helpful during these times. Structured days with regular mealtimes and bedtimes are an essential part of making children feel safe and comfortable as they know what to expect.

  6. Be more tolerant and understanding:
    Our children are going through a tough time. Their routine has been unexpectedly shaken. School is suddenly closed, they can’t have play dates, they need to learn about distance learning, their extracurricular activities have been annulled and to top it all they have to compulsively wash their hands! Wherever they go, they hear about this scary new word “Coronavirus”. Understandably so they’re going to feel anxious, fearful and misbehave maybe. This is why as adults we need to be more tolerant and help our children adapt to this drastic change by guiding them and soothing them instead of reprimanding them. We need to remember they are “just kids” and they require constant reassurance and understanding.

  7. Try to make the best out of their (and your) downtime at home:
    Try to use this opportunity to spend more quality time with your children especially if we you are now working from home. This could be an opportunity to lend a listening ear to their problems, their stories, to cook a meal together, exercise together and engage in any hobby of their choice. Keeping a positive attitude is very helpful at this stage.

Below are key anxiety symptoms in young children: 

  • Sleep disturbance
  • Changes in appetite patterns
  • Anger or irritable mood 
  • Impaired concentration and memory
  • Constant worrying and constant negative thoughts with clinginess to parents
  • Aggressive behavior

Physical symptoms may include: 

  • Stomach pain, nausea or digestive problems
  • Headache
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pounding heart or increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Muscle tension or pain

This is an overwhelming phase for all of us, adults and children, this is why it is essential that we take care of our wellbeing in order to better help our children and fulfill our duties as parents. I urge you to take some time for yourself: meditate, keep fit, spend time with your family and most importantly have a positive attitude. We need to be mentally, emotionally and physically strong in order to overcome this rough time.

In the hopes that our lives go back to normal as soon as possible, I wish you all the very best. Stay safe!

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