Children and the virus: how to keep a healthy environment at home

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The current situation isn’t easy for children and their parents alike. Especially for the parents, as new items have been added to their regular list of anxieties and fears.

Everything is piling up: all of a sudden, one of the family members gets sick – what if I get sick myself, how to ensure everyone’s safety, how not to lose my income, what to tell the children, how will this distance learning work, what to do with the children on forced vacations whilst locked up – and dozens of other different questions and anxieties that swarm in the head like bees in a hive.

A virus is the personification of one of the most complex fears for any person, because it’s an invisible enemy, an incorporeal one; it can’t be seen or touched, and whether we want that or not, our minds, coupled with anxiety, give it the most incredible powers. Fear is multiplied by the unknown – the fact that it doesn’t have clear instructions and security guarantees. And then, just like in the dark Middle Ages, magical thinking, all kinds of speculations and scary fantasies are activated in people.

Do you know which movies are the scariest? Not the ones where the killer with a knife jumps out, or the ones where they show us a terrible monster; rather the ones where we only see a shadow and fill in the blanks. A little-known virus walking around the planet is the very same shadow. It’s alarming for adults and they inadvertently broadcast their anxiety to children, because what is said out loud matters less than what the children can read from tone, emotions and behavior.

That’s why, in order to maintain a healthy environment at home, you need to start with yourself. Put a mask on yourself, then on your child, like on an airplane. If you’re fine, the psycho emotional state of your children will also be fine.

Start by analyzing your own fears and anxieties. First of all, highlight what you can really control: ensuring the necessary security measures (everything the WHO recommends), quarantining if necessary.

Limit the online info stream that’s winding up your nervous system all the time – only read proven sources and carefully measure the amount that you read. Don’t get involved in the discussions on any theories about the origin of the virus and arguments of the “we’re all gonna die” sort. Whenever possible, try to live a normal life, but take into account the new temporary measures dictated by security.

In this whole situation, the children look at their parents first of all, and draw their conclusions about what’s happening, based on what they see. Remember that it’s not only WHAT you say that’s important, but also HOW you say it – children observe the adults’ emotions and behavior in order to understand how to manage their own emotions during difficult times.

That’s why it’s important for adults themselves to maintain emotional balance and take care of themselves. In the previous article, we’ve written about how to tell the children and what to say. Here are some other things to consider:

  1. Children, especially young ones, tend to attribute the blame for anything to themselves. Make sure that the child doesn’t think that the quarantine is a punishment and that he is to blame for something;
  2.  If the child started to fear the coronavirus because he’s heard some disturbing information on TV or read something on the Internet, you need to help him express his feelings. Sometimes, participating in creative activities, like playing or drawing, can make this process easier. An open discussion of the situation with the child is also useful in this case.
  3. If you notice that the child takes what’s happening too close to heart, is worried and anxious, it makes sense to limit the stream of information, to prevent the constant background of TV or radio news where the child is, to monitor what you discuss in the family and how.
  4. Children can also worry about the consequences of quarantine itself. For example, teenagers may be concerned about the fact that preparations for their state exams are disrupted. In this case, you must definitely talk to the children, reassure them, help draw up a training plan to be used at home. Idleness can throw you off, whilst conscious involvement in activity helps to cope with the stress.

Iron out the difficulties in relationships – now’s not the time to “lecture” or introduce new restrictions for the child, if they weren’t in place previously. There’s enough new stuff going on now, don’t complicate the adaptation further.

Allow the teenager some alone time, to communicate via Skype and video chat, don’t activate the strict control mode just because you’re at home and have the opportunity to do so.

It’s important not to ignore emotions and feelings, both yours and the children’s – the new rhythm of life won’t then turn into a serious stress factor, and your family will get through it relatively easily.