A pandemic is new territory for adults and kids alike.
“These are strange times,” said Joseph Segeleon, a critical care pediatrician serving as chief medical officer of Sanford Children’s.
Dr. Segeleon encourages parents to keep an open dialogue with kids and young adults about the coronavirus and addressed some frequently asked questions on the topic.
What advice do you have for parents right now?
The role for all parents right now is to be reassuring, be a listening ear and make sure children feel safe.
“To be reassuring and to be able to influence someone and say to them, ‘We’re safe’ — the first thing I’d say to parents is control your anxiety,” Dr. Segeleon said.
“Look into yourself and say, ‘How am I coping? How am I doing with this?’ Perhaps don’t watch six or 12 hours of news. Make sure you’re OK with things. Concentrate on what we know; in circumstances where we don’t know a lot, how to keep your family safe and how you can keep safe, how you’re coping with it in a healthy manner.
“Kids pick up on parental anxiety, anger, when we’re impatient. For the most part, younger children and even adolescents and teens pick up on movements, body language. They know when we’re afraid. They look to us for reassurance and that, yes, we’ll do everything we can to keep them safe.”
How important is keeping an open dialogue with our kids?
An open dialogue is extremely important, Dr. Segeleon says.
“It’s really important right now to be accessible to your kids,” he said. “To be available for questions. To acknowledge that they may be anxious and they may be fearful. Be reassuring and confident and comfortable. Address their concerns. Children may hear a lot of things — particularly older children.”
How do we talk to older children about COVID-19?
Be aware of where your child is getting their information.
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get your information from the same sources,” Dr. Segeleon said. “Not everything on the internet is true. We know there wasn’t a person or people who caused this virus. It’s really important to stick with the facts and stick with science. It can be interesting, a conversation piece, especially with older kids who have a lot of questions. Let’s face it, we have a lot of questions about this current situation.”
How do we approach the subject based on their ages?
“It’s very important we acknowledge the developmental difference between children. I certainly wouldn’t try to explain this phenomenon to a 5-year-old with the same language and tone as I would with a 16-year-old.
“A 5-year-old knows about germs. They know about sickness, colds and runny noses. You can explain it to them in that way. Whereas, an adolescent is more sophisticated. You can go into the details about where this virus came from, what we know about it. Compare and contrast it to something like the flu, which a lot of kids know about.”
Children may be anxious, confused, afraid. How can we help?
Dr. Segeleon’s best advice? Establish a routine.
“We’ve all been thrown into this topsy-turvy world, where we’re not going to school. … Some adults, a lot of adults, are not going to work and working from home. … Kids are doing online school. That’s difficult. It’s a challenge for the child and the parents as well. We can’t get together with the neighborhood kid, we can’t see our grandparents.
“Stick with a routine. It’s vitally important. Kids look to parents to establish a routine. I would strongly advocate bedtimes. There should be a bedtime, a routine. Three meals a day, good nutritious food and meals together.”
How can we shift our thinking and look at the bright side?
It’s important to stay positive. Kids pick up on that positive energy, Dr. Segeleon says.
“When it comes to this virus, there are some positives we can see out of this. First off, younger people — by and large — do not get as ill as older people. We know, in the United States, children can get seriously ill. But when we look at this virus as a whole, the younger population isn’t as significantly affected. That’s a positive. You can say that to your child. They’re often worried about their safety and yours as their parent.”
Encourage new ways of doing things together like playing games and hosting virtual meetings with friends and loved ones.
Encouraging safety and prevention
“The reason why we wash our hands and the reason why we’re practicing washing our hands is to keep us safe but also to keep the people around us safe. The reason we’re staying home and sacrificing time at the playground, or why we’re not going to school to see our friends, is more than just about you and I. It’s about the general good. It’s about the opportunity to do things and the sacrifice for the betterment of all. I personally think that’s a positive message,” Dr. Segeleon said.
Amid a pandemic, we’re seeing a lot of creativity and — more importantly — kindness, he added.
“You don’t have to look very far to see acts of kindness, people reaching out, people going to the grocery store for those who cannot or should not. Reaching out and connecting on social media to those who might be lonely or isolated. There’s a lot of kindness in this world, and it’s a nice time to celebrate that.”
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