UC Answers: How can I help my kids understand COVID-19?

Staying healthy emotional and mentally requires work. UC clinical psychologist Maria Espinola, PsyD, offers some insights for parents and students to pressing back-to-school questions. Espinola is an assistant professor in the UC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences.

I think it’s important for parents to stay up to date with the latest recommendations from the CDC, then ask their children what they have heard about the coronavirus and correct any misinformation. The information parents give to their children should be appropriate for their age, using examples that children can understand. Small children tend to respond well to seeing the virus as a cartoon villain that we are all working to protect each other from.

In that way, they can see themselves as mini heroes for taking the precautions that are needed to stop the virus. Teens need more information and more frequent conversations. All children, including teens who don’t seem to listen, need to feel safe and loved by their parents so it’s important for parents to emphasize that they want to see them wearing masks and maintaining social distance because they love them and want them to be safe and healthy. It’s also fundamental that parents model behaviors that can help stop the spread of the virus as well as healthy ways to cope with the stress brought by the pandemic.

As a community, it’s fundamental that we model behaviors that make it easier for children to remember to engage in these behaviors. Some ideas include using signs with cartoons wearing masks, stuffed animals wearing masks and offering free masks in children’s sizes. Also, we need to praise children when we see them engage in these behaviors.

Parents can also help children feel more at ease about wearing masks by having them pick a design they like, by decorating their masks at home with drawings, stickers and glitter and by having them make masks for their dolls and stuffed animals. Stores are selling kids’ masks that feature superheroes and unicorns.

Social distancing can be promoted by increasing children’s comfort around the use of FaceTime and virtual meetings to talk with their friends and family. Hand washing can be promoted by buying soaps with colors and designs that children find fun and also by having them sing a 20 second song while washing their hands. PBS as well as the local channel “Science Around Cincy” have released videos to encourage children to wash their hands.

I encourage students to build structure and divide their schedules into three types of activities: self-care, building mastery, and fun. Self-care activities include exercising (go for a mindful walk or do yoga in one the beautiful parks that Cincinnati has to offer) eating healthy, sleeping eight hours per night, and taking breaks during the day to do something that soothes them such as drinking a cup of Chamomile tea, taking a bubble bath or listening to relaxing music.

Students can build mastery by completing tasks that help them build their sense of competence and achievement. Those tasks can include school-related tasks such as homework assignments, studying or work-related assignments. Daily tasks that are simple but that still have to get done such as laundry or organizing paperwork are helpful to accomplish as well.

In terms of fun activities, I encourage students to engage with the arts by creating art, writing, playing an instrument or drawing. They can appreciate art by watching a movie, visiting a museum online or attending a virtual concert. It’s good to engage with nature so consider bird watching, gardening, kayaking or hiking around the River Gorge in Kentucky as good examples. Stay connected with others by calling friends and family and attend virtual social meetings.

Absolutely. Students and members of the UC community concerned about students have access to mental health crisis care and consultation 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They have to call 513-556-0648 and press 1, to speak with a counselor.

I encourage students to visit the Counseling and Psychological Services online

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