Reducing kids’ pandemic panic a ‘balancing act’

Colin King sitting on the floor of Western’s Child &Youth Development Clinic Centre surrounded by toys

Western News file photoThe coronavirus pandemic – which has closed schools and limited kids’ contact with friends – has been a trying “trifecta of the uncertain, the unexpected and the unpredictable,” said Colin King, an Education professor and Academic Director of Western’s Child &Youth Development Clinic Centre.

Editor’s note: Visit the official WesternCOVID-19 website for the latest campus updates.

*   *   *

Under normal circumstances, uncertainty provokes worries among children – and these aren’t ordinary circumstances.

But by including kids in problem-solving conversations about COVID-19, you can help keep their concerns about the virus from growing into full-blown pandemic panic, stressed the head of the Western’s Child & Youth Development Clinic.

The coronavirus pandemic – which has closed schools and limited kids’ contact with friends – has been a trying “trifecta of the uncertain, the unexpected and the unpredictable,” said Colin King, an Education professor and Academic Director of the Centre.

It’s meant that some children need more attention, as well as age-appropriate fact-based discussions about what is happening and open conversation about what emotions they are feeling, he said.

Parents can focus on talking about hand-washing and healthy spacing, without either minimizing or amplifying their kids’ worries.

“It is a difficult balancing act. We want to be factual with kids about what’s going on, but at the same time, we don’t need to have a prolonged conversation expressing what’s going on and all the updates. It’s about taking some of that factual information and turning it into action and extra precautions.”

The clinic is an interdisciplinary centre that offers assessment, intervention and treatment to children with psychological, educational and/or language difficulties. The centre is closed to in-person sessions now, but continues to be in touch with previous clients and their parents.

King said parents need to help affirm children’s questions, concerns and emotions as valid, and bring a calm approach to their worries.

That might mean limiting social media intake – picking one or two times each day to check the newsfeed instead of a steady stream of COVID-19 information. Research shows that consuming a non-stop diet of social media can add to stress levels – for all ages.

It can also mean parents problem-solving with their children: ways to make the isolation easier; what routines they would like to build to bring predictability to the day; and where to go and what to do when they feel the stress building.

That last point is as valid for the parents as for children, he said. “We need to give ourselves permission to know we’re not going to be perfect – understanding everyone is doing as best they can.”

And when tempers fray or when behaviours escalate, talking about how to do better next time can also be a relationship-builder, he said.

*   *   *

HELP IS AVAILABLE

If children’s worries do not abate and they are in need of additional support, there are a variety of in-person, phone and online supports available for the whole family.