Recently, we spoke to The Local Moms Network Greenwich-based contributor Caitlyn Dunn, LCSW, about how to speak to kids about coronavirus. In the few weeks since then, many schools across the country have closed—some with little notice. Parents may be wondering not only how to deal with the logistics of closures, but also how explain them to their kids—particularly children already prone to anxiety.
The good news? Caitlyn says that interestingly enough, anxious kids are not appearing particularly anxious right now. “Home is a safe place for them,” she explains Caitlyn. “What is most important to a child’s security through this time is the parent being emotionally available, and that is directly related to how you’re taking care of yourself,” she adds. Because coronavirus is a lot scarier for parents, who understand the magnitude of it in a way that even a teenager cannot, self-care has never been more important. Whether that’s taking an afternoon off from homeschooling and watching a silly movie as a family, enjoying your own bath while your partner does the kids’ nighttime routine, or carving out a quick workout, being kind to yourself so you can be present with them (as much as is feasible) is crucial. “This is a trauma,” explains Caitlyn. “With trauma, for kids, the thing most important is the attachment from the parent,” she adds.
This concept is shown in cases of domestic violence, where kids are most affected by the emotional distance of a strained mother—not from witnessing the violence itself. So what does that mean for all moms during coronavirus? Do whatever you have to do so you can give more eye contact, play more silly games that involve tickling, giggling, or dancing, and in general, hug and cuddle as much as possible.
As for explaining the actual reason they’re home, Caitlyn says it will definitely depend on each child, so listen to their cues. In preschool, many may not even ask (“out of sight out of mind”). If they say they miss their friends, acknowledge that, says Caitlyn, but don’t feel you need to explain anything unless they ask. If they do ask, give limited details. “A lot of times we give too much information,” says Caitlyn. You’ll be able to easily tell when you’re giving too much information to a small child—they’ll simply walk away. Older kids may have questions you can’t answer—and you can be honest about that. But if you sense anxiety brewing, try to emphasize the control you have—and reiterate that you are staying health through sleep and healthy eating, and that you can fight viruses off with your immune system.
One last note: Two other things Caitlyn says to stop stressing about, particularly with young kids? FaceTime-ing regularly with friends or feeling guilty about screen time. Particularly for younger kids, spending time as a family is exponentially more important than staying in touch with school friends. And with screen time, rules “should go out the window.” Although you’ll want to supervise it, she says some TV time can actually soothe anxiety. “I think there is a lot of guilt with screen time, but forget about it. You need to feel okay right now, and if you’re falling into feeling guilty that’s going to take a way from being present,” says Caitlyn. “Do what do works for you.”