Supporting children through the COVID-19 pandemic
With all the political developments, social restrictions and media coverage about the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), it’s understandable that parents might feel overwhelmed and stressed during this time.
While the immediate future may feel uncertain, it's important parents are able to help their children feel calm and safe as they navigate this fluid situation together.
To assist parents through this difficult time, Dr Zoe Wainer, Head of Public Health at Bupa has provided the following advice.
- Filter the media for your kids: As the public health situation evolves, adults have to stay up to date on current news and regulations, but kids don’t. This is because the media tend to talk about dangers and crises, and this can create a lot of stress in children who may not fully understand what they are absorbing. As such, it’s better they hear information from you in an age-appropriate manner. A good way to start is to ask them what they already know about COVID-19 so you can clarify any misunderstandings they may have and let them know that it’s normal to experience some anxiety in new and stressful situations.
- Maintain family routines and connections: In challenging times, family is more important than ever so try to avoid separation with your children, if you can. Keeping to regular household routines and schedules as much as possible, or creating new ones, can also help create reliability and stability for kids at this unstable time. If you do need to separate (e.g. hospitalisation), make sure you keep in regular contact via phone or video chat and reassure your kids of the situation.
- Check-in with your own mental health: Kids will follow your cues when it comes to worry and concern. Before you talk to your children about COVID-19, consider whether you feel in the right headspace to talk and answer questions. If you find your own negative thoughts creeping in, challenge them by asking yourself what evidence you have for that thought. Balancing a negative thought with a realistic thought can help you feel more positive. It’s also important to focus on your own self-care and make sure you’re getting enough downtime. If you’re concerned about your mental health, contact your GP, or Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Australia) or 0800 543 354 (New Zealand).
- Be prepared to give them some extra attention: When things feel uncertain, it’s normal for children to be ‘clingier’ and demand your love and attention more than usual. Meet these needs as much you can. That can be as simple as taking extra care to listen to your children, speaking kindly and reassuring them. If possible, make opportunities to play and relax with your kids. If you’re looking for an activity to do together, why not get involved with Bupa’s ‘Visits by Mail’ program by writing letters and drawing pictures for our aged care residents.
Children respond to stress in different ways, and they may also be more anxious, withdrawn, angry or agitated than usual. As a parent, this can be worrying, but with your attention, love and support, your kids will have the best chance of making it through.
If you’re concerned about your or your child’s mental health, seek professional support. Contact:
- Your GP
- Bupa’s Mental Health Navigation Service – 1300 136 764
- Kids Helpline –1800 55 1800 (Australia) or Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (New Zealand)
- Headspace –1800 650 890
- Beyond Blue
- Emerging Minds – Talking to children video and Parent-child play conversation guide
- Raising Children Network – COVID-19 and Children Factsheet
- UNICEF – How to talk to your children about coronavirus (COVID-19) Factsheet
- Australian Red Cross – Talking to kids about COVID-19
- ReachOut Australia – Coping during COVID-19 resource page
- mummatters – mental health resource for mums in the perinatal period
- Australian Psychological Society. Tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety. [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www.psychology.org.au
- Australian Red Cross. Talking to kids about COVID-19. [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www.redcross.org.au
- Emerging Minds. Supporting children during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www.emergingminds.com.au
- Headspace. How to cope with stress related to COVID 19. [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www. headspace.org.au
- Head to Health. COVID-19 Support. [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www.headtohealth.gov.au
- Kids Helpline. Helping kids identify and express feelings. [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www.kidshelpline.com.au
- Raising Children Network. Coronavirus (COVID-19) and children in Australia. [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www.raisingchildren.net.au
- ReachOut Australia. Coping during coronavirus. [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www.au.reachout.com
- UNICEF. How to talk to your children about coronavirus (COVID-19). [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www.unicef.org.au
- World Health Organisation. Helping children cope with stress during the 2019-nCoV outbreak. [Online] 2020 [Accessed 23 March 2020] Available from: www.who.int