Supporting children in a time of crisis



A message from Drs. Unjali Malhotra and Nel Wieman, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer; and Denise Lacerte, FNHA Senior Specialist, Healthy Children and Youth Wellness

In this time of crisis, children need accurate, open, honest and age-appropriate information about what is happening. Here are a few topics you will likely need to talk to them about: 

 Germs/ Viruses: A five-year-old may understand that “germs can make you sick, so let’s wash our hands more,” or that “germs jump from person to person with sneezes and coughs, so let’s stay home.” And a 10-year-old may understand that “a virus is in our communities, we have excellent doctors and nurses to keep us healthy, and to help them and ourselves, we should wash our hands and stay home more.” 

 Coughing and sneezing precautions: These can be described as “cough pockets” and “sneeze pockets” (coughing / sneezing into an elbow).

 Physical Distancing: Keeping a physical distance can be a real challenge for children, especially the younger they are! You can do things like explain how far a “germ” can travel – show them six feet with items they recognize, like a moose or a motorcycle, to let them know how far away to be from others. If older, “fingertip to fingertip without touching.” 

Nurturing Heart and Spirit 
Nurturing children’s spirits and supporting them emotionally is also critical. They may have fears about safety and wonder “what is going to happen,” so offer your child a feeling of security. A calming tone of voice and manner, together with openness and understanding of their feelings, is beneficial. Talking about these feelings is important. Here are some examples of this approach: 

 “Things are going to be different; this is new for all of us. Trust Mom and Dad. We will do what is right for you. Count on us like you always do.“

 “I may not know the answer right away but I will figure it out. I always take care of you and will now too. I am open to all of your questions.”

Developing Routines
Another important thing to do is keep or make routines, and to engage in meaningful and joyful conversation and activity. Routines can be helpful; they offer structure, predictability, and a sense of purpose. When kids are out of school, it helps to create a structured day for children, which can include:  playing by themselves, quiet time, family time, home-based activities, cooking / eating times, reading time, outdoor activities, and / or chores each day. It is critical that you cancel in-person play dates and group activities during the pandemic.

Creating a Sense of Control
Some actions, such as frequent handwashing and physical distancing, can provide a sense of control for both children and adults. Take the opportunity to explain why these new behaviours are important. This resource includes language that will help you have these conversations. For smaller children in particular, familiar characters and songs work well.

Finally, keep in mind that you and your family are a team. Your children love you. You are all they need to help them feel safe and secure. Know that your love and protection are felt.
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