Tweens denied sleepovers with friends. Teens worried about missing milestones like prom and graduation. Preschoolers concerned about the "Crayola virus." (At least at Cory's house.)
COVID-19 has changed life for everyone, including kids. We reached out to Jenn Rodemeyer, manager of Mayo Clinic's Child Life Program, for advice on how to talk with kids about COVID-19 and help young people cope with the changes they're facing.
Define new terms
Children are overhearing the adults in their lives using new terms they may not understand. This is especially true for preschoolers and early elementary aged children. So take time to explain COVID-19 in kid-friendly terms. "Tell kids that COVID-19 is a virus that can make their body feel sick," Rodemeyer says. Let them know that a virus is too tiny to see, which is why it's important to wash their hands often and well. If you're in need of a refresher on handwashing technique, we recommend this video (grown-ups only) featuring Jimmy Kimmel and Mayo's own Gregory Poland, M.D.
Rodemeyer suggests putting signs up in key spots around your house — such as on the back door — reminding family members to wash their hands immediately when they enter the house. She's done this herself, and says that after just two days her entire family adopted the habit of handwashing each time they come into their home. "It wasn't part of our routine before," she says. "Now, it is." She also has family members clean their electronic devices each night.
To explain social distancing, which can help slow the spread of COVID-19, Rodemeyer suggests telling kids to "pretend there is a bike separating you and the person you are standing by." When they see people they know, trade high fives and hugs for smiles and waves.
Be honest and open
Rodemeyer says it's important for older kids to have the facts about COVID-19. And those facts should come from you. "Adults should do their own research and get information from trusted sources," Rodemeyer says. She recommends the CDC or Mayo Clinic. "Avoid letting kids Google this on their own."
It's also important to convey the seriousness of the threat posed by COVID-19, which can be hard for tweens and teens to comprehend. "Kids this age feel like they're invincible," Rodemeyer says. "They need to be taking extra precautions to keep themselves and others safe. They need to understand the risks they're facing. This is a real deal."
Use technology for good
Now is the time you can lean in to technology. "Encourage your kids to socialize electronically," Rodemeyer says. "Kids need to have the fulfillment that comes from connecting with friends, especially teens."
Rodemeyer also recommends kids take advantage of the world of resources
available online, including books, music and podcasts. Kids could also go online to explore a new hobby or interest. "If your child has wanted to learn guitar, look for an app to teach them," she says. Macramé? Calligraphy? Movie making? There's an app for all of that. (And have they met the Crochet Kid? Have you?)
Dealing with disappointments
Kids are missing out on sports seasons, concerts and birthday parties. They may miss out on even more, including prom and graduation. Help them manage their disappointments.
"Listen to the things your kids are sad about missing," Rodemeyer says. "Let them know you're also feeling sad about those things. Assure them that you are going to find another way to celebrate. If you're missing a vacation, tell them it's postponed, not cancelled. If they miss prom, promise a special dinner in July or August. These milestones might not happen the way we thought they would, but we can still find a way to make them special."
The gift of time
Does the thought of weeks — or months! — at home with no school or extracurriculars make you nervous? Rodemeyer suggests reframing. "Look at this time as a gift," she says. "Use this time to connect with your kids. This time has been given to us."
May we all — whatever our age — use it well.
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