SOUTHERN INDIANA — As the world learns to navigate life amid a pandemic, parents are facing the challenges of guiding their kids through the situation and helping them understand what’s going on.
Many parents are trying to juggle eLearning with other responsibilities, keep their kids busy and answer questions about the coronavirus as children stay at home during the school closures. The News and Tribune talked to local experts and parents to learn about ways people can talk to kids about COVID-19 and help manage their stress about the pandemic.
Lilly Dumar, counselor at Clarksville Elementary School, said it is important for parents to see what information their children already know about COVID-19 and what questions they have about the pandemic.
“Find out what they think is going on and what their worries and fears are,” she said. “You should answer in an age appropriate way, and if you don’t know the answer, always look it up together. Go to a source like the CDC — something that’s not going to have scary headlines.”
Parents can then talk to their kids about how they are feeling and learn whether they are feeling anxious about the situation, she said. She recommends that parents talk to their kids about how they can keep their bodies safe through hand washing and physical distancing, and they should encourage habits such as healthy eating and getting enough sleep.
Jeffersonville resident Allison Miller works as an early childhood family learning specialist with the National Center for Families Learning in Louisville. Kids will probably be experiencing anxiety and behavioral changes as their usual schedule is disrupted, she said, and she encourages parents to have age appropriate conversations with their kids about COVID-19 and how it affects their lives.
Parents also need to make sure they are taking care of themselves, Miller said.
“Kids feed off what you are feeling, even if you think you’re doing a good job of masking your emotions,” she said. “They are going to feed off anxiety and depression. Looking inward at your own self and seeing how you can manage your own emotions helps kids manage their emotions as well.”
Dumar is creating videos featuring mindful activities such as deep breathing, guided meditations and positive affirmation exercises she is sharing six days a week on the school’s Facebook page, and she recommends that families do these kinds of activities together to relieve stress.
If kids are missing a particular friend, they could write them a letter, draw them a picture or have a virtual chat, she said. They could enjoy an activity such as a FaceTime dance party.
It can be difficult for families to be in the house together all the time, but it’s important to find positive ways to connect with each other, Miller said.
“Go on family walks and watch movies together,” she said. “Kids are going to want to connect with you, even if it seems they don’t.”
Another challenge is managing kids’ disappointment about canceled activities, including end-of-year activities. It is important to focus on what they can do rather than what they are missing out on, Dumar said, and she emphasizes the importance of setting up video conferencing chats to provide a safe way for kids to see each other.
“Remind kids that it’s not going to be forever, and after a storm, there is a rainbow,” she said. “This is what we’re doing right now to keep everyone safe so we can be together again.”
As people try to balance parenting, their kids’ eLearning and their own work, it’s important for parents to take care of themselves and recognize that they are not going to be perfect, she said.
“Parents are feeling a lot of pressure to create the perfect home school, work from home and prepare meals,” Dumar said. “It’s a lot. Set realistic goals and know it’s OK to not be perfect.”
It can be difficult for both parents and kids as they all try to complete their work and school tasks within the same house, Miller said, and it’s important to acknowledge the difficulties.
“Make sure everyone is doing well mentally and physically — things like schoolwork come after that. That’s not to say school is not important, but the family structure is so different right now.”
Jeffersonville resident Alma Rodriguez has three kids, ages 10, 9 and 5. It’s been particularly difficult for her 5-year-old son, Jared, who has had trouble understanding why they have to stay at home all the time, she said. Both Jared and her 9-year-old daughter, Rhianna, have been more emotional than usual since the pandemic started.
She has tried to help Jared understand the situation, and she’s had some help from Rhianna, who helps translate in a way the 5-year-old understands.
“She tries to explain in her own way, and it kind of helps,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t always explain in words that they understand.”
Rodriguez said Jared has been more likely to cry at seemingly small things, and she tried to acknowledge his emotions. It has been difficult for her kids not to be around their friends or visit their grandparents.
“I say, ‘I understand, I know how you feel, and we’re all feeling the same way,” she said. “I kind of let him cry it out sometimes.”
Jeffersonville resident Donna Reed has two kids, ages 6 and 8, who attend Riverside Elementary School. Her kids work well under structure, and she has given them checklists for schoolwork, fun time, cooking and other activities. To explain the pandemic to the children, she has found it helpful to provide them with online resources, including a comic published by NPR to explain the coronavirus to kids.
Her kids have questions about the pandemic, and she is honest with them while emphasizing that they are protected and safe, she said.
“My worst fear is them keeping it all inside, and I know that is going to happen, to some extent,” Reed said. “If they get to verbalize anything or get to write it down, I know it’s going to be better.”