Talking to kids about COVID-19
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Talking to kids about COVID-19
Whether or not the youth in your life have OCD or a related disorder, this may still be a stressful time for them. If they do live with OCD or a related disorder, you may notice their symptoms getting worse or more intense.
Kids may not have the words to talk about what they are feeling or going through, so it is especially important for parents to check in with their kids and keep an eye on how they may be reacting.
Below are tips for parents of youth in general:
- Don’t be afraid to talk about COVID-19 with your child. A great way to start is to ask them what they know and/or might have heard already, and let that guide your discussion. Answer whatever questions they may have to the best of your ability, and with developmentally appropriate language.
- Validate whatever feelings or concerns your child may have, and provide realistic assurance (for example, “Doctors say that the best way to stay healthy is to wash our hands, so we are!” or “Scientists and doctors are working hard to learn more about this new virus so we can know how to beat it.”).
- No matter their age, maintaining routines and consistency is important for all youth. If routines are disrupted by COVID-19-related guidelines (e.g., school closures), work to build other routines and predictability to help them adjust to this new, temporary normal.
- Model good coping strategies, and consider doing some activities together as a family — read a book together, have a dance party in the living room, have a group video call to a beloved relative.
- Do your best to manage your child’s news/information consumption. COVID-19 is getting a lot of coverage in the news and on social media, not all of which is factual or helpful. Continue to engage your child about what they have seen and heard, help them to understand what they are reading, and work to clarify any misconceptions they may have. Furthermore, limit overall exposure to information on various media outlets.
- If you co-parent or otherwise share child-raising duties, make sure you are all on the same page and giving your child the same messages. Disagreements or conflicting information can cause confusion and anxiety in youth.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: Take care of yourself, and whatever you might be feeling or going through. You are the best support to your children when you are feeling good yourself!
Here are some tips specifically for parents of youth with OCD:
- Be aware that times of high stress might mean an increase in or changing of their OCD symptoms.
- If your child has been in treatment, it may appear that they are experiencing a setback or relapse. Know that this is normal, and that they can get back on track with support.
- If applicable, talk to your child about how the general public health guidelines might work with their OCD treatment plan. This is especially important for youth dealing with contamination or health-related OCD fears, and those whose compulsions revolve around cleanliness or hygiene.
- Be mindful that not all COVID-19-related questions are OCD reassurance — kids will have questions, and parents should be prepared to answer them. However, if your child asks the same question repeatedly, asks in a pressured way, or needs you to answer in “the right way,” then it is likely OCD reassurance and will make anxiety worse. If guidelines for responding to OCD reassurance are not already part of your child’s treatment plan, check in with their therapist about how to proceed.
- If you notice your child start to obsess/seek OCD reassurance about the uncertain future (e.g. “Will it be like this forever?” “What if things never get back to normal?”), try some activities to keep them in the present moment – do a baking project, start a puzzle, etc.
- Consult with your child’s treatment provider about ways to include current guidelines (e.g., washing) into their treatment plan.
- Limit exposure to media discussing coronavirus. It is important for you as the parent to be the primary gatekeeper of information.
- Try to keep your outward mood as neutral (or positive) as possible, as your children may read into your outward signs of fear or anxiety and let it fuel their own fear or anxiety.
Resources for Parents
- INFOGRAPHIC – Helping Children Cope with Stress during the COVID-19 Outbreak (WHO)
- Helping Kids and Families Keep a Healthy Mindset During the Coronavirus Crisis (McLean Hospital)
- Tips to Help College Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic (McLean Hospital)
- COVID-19 Resources for Staying Resilient (UCLA Center for Child Anxiety Resilience Education and Support)
- Talking to Kids About the Coronavirus (Child Mind Institute)
- Supporting Kids during the COVID-19 Crisis (Child Mind Institute)
- Supporting Teenagers and Young Adults during the COVID-19 Crisis (Child Mind Institute)
- How to Explain the Coronavirus to Kids with Anxiety or OCD (Anxious Toddlers)
- 5 Ways to Help Teens Manage Anxiety About the Coronavirus (New York Times)