1. Reassure children that they are safe.
Emphasize that children will be safe if we follow the advice of public health authorities. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when significant situations occur. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.
2. Make time to talk.
Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do other activities. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings. Choose what information is to be shared based on the child’s age and an assessment of your child’s need to know.
3. Keep your explanations age appropriate.
Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that they are safe and that adults are there to assist and protect them. Give simple examples of safety like washing hands, not going to large public gatherings, and staying home through the school closure or when sick.
Upper elementary school children may be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating facts from misinformation.
Upper elementary school and secondary school students may have strong and varying opinions about the global pandemic. They may want to share concrete suggestions about how to make society safer and how to prevent such occurrences. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining a safe community by following the advice from public health authorities accessing support for emotional needs as needed.
4. Review healthy practices and procedures.
This should include procedures advised by public health: washing hands, coughing and sneezing into an elbow or tissue, self-isolating when necessary, not going to public gatherings, not travelling abroad and other precautions suggested by public health. You can find more information at www.york.ca/coronavirus.
5. In a medical emergency situation, students should contact 911.
If families have a medical emergency, they should contact 911. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, please call Telehealth: 1-866-797-0000. If anyone has a reason to attend their healthcare practitioner, they should call ahead and take a private vehicle to attend the appointment. Health authorities have put in place additional measures for families to receive medical information and care, please visit www.ontario.ca/coronavirus.
6. Observe children’s emotional state.
Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns may indicate a child’s level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. If anxiety or discomfort continues beyond four to six weeks, it is important to seek professional support. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss from a medical condition, suffer from depression or other mental health issues, may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of a mental health professional immediately if you are concerned for your child’s safety, including if you have concerns related to suicidal thoughts or behaviour. Help can be accessed through your local hospital. Additionally, crisis counselling support is available through contacting KidsHelpPhone 1-800-668-6868 or 310-COPE (905-310-2673) if a child or youth in your home requires someone to talk to urgently. Once schools reopen, if you have concerns about your child’s emotions or mental health, please speak to the school so that we may arrange for support from our psychological services and social work services teams.
7. Limit television viewing of these events.
Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. General information about COVID-19 played with frequency around children and youth can increase feelings of anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children, even teenagers, and limit their exposure to comments that may be misunderstood or cause an increase in anxiety.
8. Maintain routines.
Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote health and well-being. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don’t push them if they seem overwhelmed.
9. Promote well-being practices.
Taking into consideration advice from public health authorities, promote and model healthy practices:
- Spend time outside: go walking or, spend time enjoying the fresh air (preferably in nature).
- Take time to reach out to loved ones: as mentioned above, social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t communicate with family and friends. Use technology available to you to check in on a loved one, a neighbour and friends. ⠀
- Take time to meditate, reflect, journal, play games: this can go a long way for feeling grounded and focus on the family.
- Get enough sleep: the quality of your sleep directly affects your immune system, so try and aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep.
Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children
Home and schools, when they are open, are safe places. School staff work with families and public safety providers (public health authorities, local emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.
We all have a role to play in staying safe and healthy.
Don’t dwell on the worst possibilities. Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and the probability that it will affect you or your school.
A global pandemic may be difficult to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine at home. While practicing social distancing, remember that there are other ways to communicate with family and friends (video calling, telephone, social media, etc.) and doing so may help us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.
Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in healthy activities at home and school when it reopens, learning the messages from public health, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.
This information was prepared with resources from the National Association of School Psychologists, the Ontario Psychological Association, the American Psychological Association.