Coping in Times of Uncertainty
We learn more about COVID-19 every day, but there is still a lot we do not know. During times of uncertainty, being prepared can go a long way toward helping everyone feel better about a stressful situation, especially one with such intense media coverage.
Here are some steps you can take to help prepare your family:
- Stay updated on what’s happening with COVID-19, and make sure that information comes only from reliable sources—Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
- Discuss COVID-19 with your family. Keep conversations age-appropriate and have separate conversations with younger family members, if needed. Give everyone a chance to voice their questions and concerns—and respond to them.
- What is COVID-19? COVID-19 is a new coronavirus with symptoms similar to the common cold or flu. Some people experience mild illness while others become very sick. So far, children seem to handle the illness better than adults and most people who have gotten it have recovered.
- How do you get it? COVID-19 is spread person-to-person, like a cold, through droplets in the air from coughs and sneezes.
- Why is everyone so worried? COVID-19 can make you very sick. Some people have died, but most have gotten better.
- What is the community doing to keep people safe? The community will watch for people who are or who may get sick. They will keep sick people, or people who might have been exposed to the virus, away from others. They will close places where a sick person has been, and may even cancel events with large crowds to limit germ-sharing.
- What can our family do to keep us safe? Because there is no vaccine, the best thing people can do is avoid exposure.
- Wash hands regularly for 20 seconds with soap and water (length of the ABC song), or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when sick.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue (not your hands!).
- Keep basic supplies and medications on hand.
- Create a list of community resources—your family’s schools, doctors, public health authorities, social services, community mental health center, and crisis hotlines.
- Ask your children’s school about available learning opportunities and services in the event of closure.
To help your family cope with their feelings surrounding this outbreak, try some of the following:
- Keep the lines of communication open—stay informed, help children understand the current situation, and continue to connect with friends and family for support. Be mindful of media coverage that may promote fear or panic—and limit your children’s exposure to it.
- Support children by encouraging questions and clearing up any misunderstandings. Talk about their feelings and validate them—fear, anxiety, stress, and panic are all normal reactions to a stressful situation. Help them express their feelings through activities. Provide comfort and check in with your children regularly, especially as the situation changes.
- Have fun with your family—read together, watch movies, play games, listen to music, or try a new recipe. It’ll take everyone’s mind off their worries!
- Keep your family’s schedule consistent as much as possible.
- Find creative ways to encourage healthy habits and good hygiene—create drawings to remember best practices; sing a song to time handwashing like the ABC or Happy Birthday song, twice.
- Reassure your children that if they do get sick, doctors will help them feel better. Explain that not every cough or sneeze means that they (or others) have COVID-19.
- Focus on the positives—things you can accomplish today, activities that you find fulfilling, and thoughts that are helpful! This is a great resource for identifying unhealthy thoughts and coping with them: arfamiliesfirst.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Cognitive-Distortions.pdf
- Remember, you are a role model for your children. How you handle this stressful situation can affect how your children respond to it.
Below are some age-specific reactions and the best ways you can respond:
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School Age (6-12)
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Just for Kids: A Comic Exploring the New Coronavirus (NPR): This comic is a great visual aid to help parents explain COVID-19 to younger family members in a factual, reassuring, and kid-friendly way: www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/28/809580453/just-for-kids-a-comic-exploring-the-new-coronavirus
If you or a loved one is having a difficult time coping with the outbreak and need support, contact:
- SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUS 66746.
- Your children’s pediatrician to ask health-related questions or to get help.
ADAPTED FROM: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, www.NCTSN.org.