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Educator Shares Tips For Talking To Kids About Coronavirus Fears

(This is a guest post by Dana Kaplan. Dana has her MA in Early Childhood Education with an additional certification in Gifted Education. Dana joined PS 33, Chelsea Prep for the 2006-2007 school year. During Dana’s tenure at PS 33, she taught Pre-K for two years, launched the ICT-Kindergarten class, and independently created, piloted, and launched PS 33’s Gifted and Talented Program. Dana recently launched her personal business, Developing Empathetic Education with Dana (D.E.E.D.), where she consults with schools and parents on the critical needs for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as well as gifted and talented and “all things school related.”) 

As much as we want to put on a brave face and continue living our life like “normal,” the underlying levels of anxiety continue to rise as parents and children fear the uncertainties beyond testing, grades, assignments, attending scheduled sports practices, and other communal classes.  Yes, I’m talking about the ENORMOUS elephant in the room, the Coronavirus! The constant worry of going to work, sending children to school, taking a vacation, riding the subway, or worse, for some, the reality of staying confined to their home is rapidly soaring through many brains. As an Early Childhood Educator and expert in Social Emotional Learning, my hope is to highlight how parents can support their children’s understanding of the ramifications of the virus, and more, how communicating unlocks vulnerability, authenticity, and the opportunity to learn about what actually worries you and your child! 

As adults, it’s easy to forget that children hear our conversations, that children parrot what they pick up from friends, teachers, the person talking on the phone next to them while waiting in line at the grocery store, or hearing the news in the background of the morning hustle to prepare for school. Let’s also not forget the enormous and endless boxes of food deliveries, school and class cancelations, business trips postponed, individuals and masses quarantined, incessant reminders: DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE! WASH YOUR HANDS!, or seeing people IRL wearing face masks. 

As adults, we must take a step back and think about HOW these experiences, words, moments in time are truly affecting children of all ages! Yes, it’s crucial we are aware and never skirt the issue at hand. I firmly believe conversations and knowledge are two imperative tools in calming anxiety. When our anxiety is high, our sympathetic nervous system puts us in a state of flight or fight. By consciously and actively breathing, we activate our parasympathetic nervous system, bringing our body back to a state of balance. We are then able to make choices that benefit ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many adults’ and parents’ sympathetic nervous systems are activated and thus, the trickle effect is inevitable! 

Below are suggestions to support you and your child understanding and communicating as everyone continues to navigate through the uncertainty. 

  1. Remind your child that as much as hugging, hand holding, and physical contact are amazing ways of acknowledging peers, actively saying hello and looking their friend in the eyes to confirm the immediate connection is equally impactful. 
  2. Wash hands before eating and use hand sanitizer after pushing elevator buttons, opening/closing doors, riding the subway, or taking a cab.
  3. When coughing or sneezing, do so into one’s elbow. If sneezing or coughing touches one’s hands, immediately wash hands with soap or use hand sanitizer to kill germs. 
  4. When your child shares they aren’t feeling well, STOP AND BREATHE! Then think if they’ve exhibited any signs of illness. If your child has shown or shares physical signs, then of course take their temperature, look to see if their throat is red, and calmly inquire if peers have been sick. Before jumping to conclusions, it’s critical that you also inquire about project due dates and upcoming tests. Anxiety can manifest in many different ways. As humans, we have the ability to create psychosomatic symptoms that mask fear. When we’re already triggered, our body quickly reacts instead of responds. We lose our ability to choose when we’re in a state of fight or flight. 
  5. If your child’s school or extended classes have been closed, it is critical that schools/programs provide remote ways of learning. If you are in need of suggestions for your child(ren) beyond what your school’s provided, I always start with an interest inventory to help children create research projects and opportunities to infuse what has been taught in school with the real world. 

If you are in need of additional practices for you and your family, feel free to reach out to me!

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