A psychologist's advice on how to help your children deal with the many emotions they may be experiencing now.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) brings with it feelings like anxiety, stress and uncertainty — and they are felt especially strongly by children of all ages. Though all children deal with such emotions in different ways, if your child has been faced with school closures, cancelled events or separation from friends, they are going to need to feel loved and supported now more than ever.
We spoke with expert adolescent psychologist, best-selling author, monthly New York Times columnist and mother of two Dr. Lisa Damour about how you can help create a sense of normalcy at home while navigating “the new (temporary) normal.”
1. Be calm and proactive
“Parents should have a calm, proactive conversation with their children about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), and the important role children can play in keeping themselves healthy. Let them know that it is possible that [you or your children] might start to feel symptoms at some point, which are often very similar to the common cold or flu, and that they do not need to feel unduly frightened of this possibility,” recommends Dr. Damour. “Parents should encourage their kids to let them know if they're not feeling well, or if they are feeling worried about the virus so that the parents can be of help.”
“Adults can empathize with the fact that children are feeling understandably nervous and worried about COVID-19. Reassure your children that illness due to COVID-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults,” she says. It’s also important to remember, that many of the symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated. “From there, we can remind them that there are many effective things we can do to keep ourselves and others safe and to feel in better control of our circumstances: frequently wash our hands, don't touch our faces and engage in physical distancing.”
"Another thing we can do is actually help them look outward. So to say to them, ‘Listen, I know you’re feeling really anxious about catching coronavirus, but part of why we’re asking you to do all these things — to wash your hands, to stay home — is that that’s also how we take care of members of our community. We think about the people around us, too.’”
2. Stick to a routine
“Children need structure. Full stop. And what we’re all having to do, very quickly, is invent entirely new structures to get every one of us through our days,” says Dr. Damour. “I would strongly recommend that parents make sure that there’s a schedule for the day — that can include playtime where a kid can get on their phone and connect with their friends, but it also should have technology-free time and time set aside to help around the house. We need to think about what we value and we need to build a structure that reflects that. It will be a great relief to our kids to have a sense of a predictable day and a sense of when they’re supposed to be working and when they get to play.”
She suggests getting your children involved too. “For children 10 and 11 or older, I would ask the child to design it. Give them a sense of the kinds of things that should be included in their day, and then work with what they create.” When it comes to younger children, “depending on who is supervising them (I realize that not every parent is going to be home to do this) structure their day so that all of the things that need to get done before anything else happen: all of their schoolwork and all of their chores. For some families, doing that at the start of the day will work best for kids. Other families may find it may work okay to start the day a little bit later after sleeping in and enjoying breakfast together as a family.” For parents who are not able to supervise their children during the day, explore with your caretaker ways to create a structure that works best.
3. Let your child feel their emotions
With school closures come cancelled school plays, concerts, sports matches and activities that children are deeply disappointed about missing out on because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Dr. Damour’s number one piece of advice is to let them be sad. “In the scope of an adolescent’s life these are major losses. This is bigger for them than it is for us because we’re measuring it against our lifetime and experience. Support, expect and normalize that they are very sad and very frustrated about the losses they are mourning.” When in doubt, empathy and support are the way to go.
4. Check in with them about what they’re hearing
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). “Find out what your child is hearing or what they think is true. It’s not enough to just tell your child accurate facts, because if they have picked up something that is inaccurate, if you don’t find out what they are thinking and directly address the misunderstanding, they may combine the new information you give them with the old information they have. Find out what your child already knows and start from there in terms of getting them on the right track.”
If they have questions you can’t answer, instead of guessing, use it as an opportunity to explore the answers together. Use websites of trusted organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization for sources of information.
Many children are facing bullying and abuse at school or online around the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). It’s important your children know that you’re always there for them should they experience bullying. “Activating bystanders is the best way to address any kind of bullying,” says Dr. Damour. “Kids who are targeted should not be expected to confront bullies; rather we should encourage them to turn to friends or adults for help and support.”
5. Create welcome distractions
When it comes to processing difficult emotions, “take your cues from your child, and really think a lot about balancing talking about feelings with finding distractions, and allow distractions when kids need relief from feeling very upset.” Have a family game night every few days or cook meals together. Dr. Damour is using dinner time to connect with her daughters. “We’ve decided that we are going to have a dinner team every night. We mix it up in pairs, so we rotate who is in charge of making dinner for the family.”
With teens and their screens, allow for some leeway, but not a free-for-all. Dr. Damour advises to be up front with your teenager and say that you understand they have more time on their hands, but that it’s not going to be a good idea to have unfettered access to screens or social media. “Ask your teen, ‘how should we handle this? Come up with a structure and show me the structure that you’re thinking about, and then I’ll let you know what I think.’”
6. Monitor your own behaviour
“Parents of course are anxious too and our kids will take emotional cues from us,” explains Dr. Damour. “I would ask parents to do what they can to manage their anxiety in their own time and to not overshare their fears with their children. That may mean containing emotions, which may be hard at times, especially if they’re feeling those emotions pretty intensely.”
Children rely on their parents to provide a sense of safety and security. “[It’s important that] we remember that they are the passengers in this and we are driving the car. And so even if we’re feeling anxious, we can’t let that get in the way of them feeling like safe passengers.”
Source: Interview and article by Mandy Rich, Digital Content Writer, UNICEF
Vaccines for COVID-19 are now being rolled out, but in some parts of the world, this good news has been tempered by the emergence of new, potentially more infectious strains of the virus. Exactly how the pandemic will evolve has become more uncertain.
Certainly, the next three or so months will be challenging, and a virus-free life is probably some way off. Some things may not return to how they were before.
Predicting exactly how things will play out is difficult, but there are some things we can forecast with a relative degree of confidence. With that in mind, here’s what we can expect from the coming year.
What impact will the new strain have?
There’s currently only limited information about the new viral strain. Although yet to be confirmed, it appears to be more infectious, but not to lead to more severe disease or be able to evade vaccine-derived immunity.
However, the variant suggests the virus is able to produce significant mutations, and further mutations could change the course of the outbreak. Suppressing the pandemic quickly therefore has become an even more urgent task.
Stricter restrictions on behaviour are likely to last well into the new year, and we may need further restrictions to control the virus if it is indeed more infectious.
How long until we see the vaccine’s effects?
Producing enough vaccine doses is a big task – production might hit a bottleneck. Even assuming we can make all we need, immunising people will take many months.
In the UK, GPs are rolling out vaccines, and an average English GP looks after nearly 9,000 people. Assuming GPs work eight hours each day, need 10 minutes to vaccinate someone, and each patient needs two shots, it would take them more than a year to see all their patients. Others, of course, will help with the roll-out, but this shows the size of the task. Delays will be unavoidable.
Additionally, the two doses of the Pfizer vaccine need to be given 21 days apart, with full immunity arriving seven days after the second jab. Other vaccines – such as AstraZeneca’s – require an even longer period between doses. It will take at least a month (if not more) to see the full effect in each vaccinated person.
In countries that relaxed social distancing rules for Christmas, we might see a post-Christmas spike in cases. In this case, vaccines are unlikely to change much initially – the disease will have too much momentum in early 2021. This will also probably be the case in the UK thanks to the new strain of the virus, even though restrictions weren’t lifted for many. Public awareness of the disease’s momentum is needed, to avoid loss of confidence in vaccination.
How will the pandemic unfold?
After people have had COVID-19 (or received a vaccine), they become immune (at least in the short term). Those infected later then increasingly have contact with immune people rather than susceptible ones. Transmission therefore falls and eventually the disease stops spreading – this is known as herd immunity.
The level of immunity across the population needed to stop the virus spreading isn’t precisely known. It’s thought to be between 60% and 80%. We’re currently nowhere near that – meaning billions around the world will need to be vaccinated to stop the virus spreading.
This also relies on vaccines preventing transmission of the virus, which hasn’t yet been proved. If it is, we’ll see a decline in COVID-19 cases, perhaps as early as spring 2021. However, lockdowns and other measures will still be needed to limit transmission while vaccination builds up population immunity – particularly wherever the more infectious strain of the virus has taken hold.
In contrast, if the vaccine only prevents infected individuals from becoming seriously ill, we will be left relying on infections to build up herd immunity. In this scenario, vaccinating the vulnerable would reduce the death rate, but serious illness and long COVID affecting younger people would likely persist.
What’s likely to change?
Vaccines aren’t a silver bullet – some level of precaution will need to be maintained for months. In areas where the highly infectious strain is rampant, high-level restrictions may last until vaccine roll-out has finished. Any changes will come slowly, primarily in the area of care home visits and reopening hospitals for regular treatment.
In time, travel will hopefully become more straightforward, though airlines might start requiring vaccination certificates. Although some countries require vaccination against yellow fever for entry, requiring immunity passports for COVID-19 is likely to prove contentious.
Mask wearing might become a social habit globally as it is now in Asia – for example when somebody is not feeling well or is concerned for their health.
Looking further ahead
Can vaccination lead to eradication of the virus? We don’t yet know how long vaccine-based immunity lasts – and long-term immunity will be key. Fully eradicating the virus will be very difficult and will require a global effort.
While we’ve got close to eradicating polio, smallpox remains the only human disease we’ve fully stamped out, and this took almost 200 years. Measles, for example, although nearly eradicated in many countries, keeps coming back.
Some vaccines, like measles, give nearly lifelong protection, whereas others need to be repeated, like tetanus. If COVID-19 mutates regularly and significantly – and its potential to do so has just been demonstrated – we may need to take new vaccines periodically, like we do for flu. In the long term, we would also need to vaccinate children to maintain herd immunity.
The social and economic effects of the pandemic will probably be long-lasting too. Perhaps life will never return to what it was before. But it is up to us to make it safer by being better prepared for future pandemics.
SOURCE: The Conversation
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