As of this writing, the number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is at least 3900. This is most likely the tip of the iceberg. Public health experts anticipate an exponential growth in cases over the early spring, an upsurge that will strain our health systems and lead to increasingly drastic measures to curb the problem. A disease pandemic is a stern test of our ability to set aside our differences and pull together for the common good.
Texas schools are now on high alert. Classes were cancelled at Alvarado ISD this past Wednesday and a number of ISDs have asked students and staff who have travelled abroad to hardest-hit countries to self-quarantine upon return. Most significantly, central Texas school districts have now cancelled classes through April 3.
One positive piece of news is that the reported infection rate of children remains low. Less than one percent of confirmed cases in China (416 of 44,000) were aged nine years or younger. No deaths were reported in this age group.
This is the good news. Unfortunately, even if children are less likely to be sick they may still play an important role in transmitting the virus.
It’s therefore important for parents to work with their children to calm their fears about COVID-19 and how it could affect them. Just as important, parents need to model the level-headedness and concern for others that bolsters our resilience and helps us all stay well.
There is much that parents can do to help their children stay informed while not letting fear dictate their every action. Here are a few tips.
Give kids a sense of control.
One way to inoculate your child against anxiety is with simple facts. For example, parents should feel free to share with their kids the good news that children appear less susceptible to the virus than older adults. Now is the time to help empower children by showing them how much control they have over whether they get sick. In short: practice good hygiene as promoted by the World Health Organization and encourage your children to do the same. Show them that proper hand washing is an easy and effective way to protect their health.
Be prepared, but think of others.
In times of uncertainty too many people will adopt a bunker mentality that prioritizes looking after theirs and theirs alone. It’s always beneficial to be kind and think of others, but especially so at a time like now. Consider that by hoarding things such as N95 masks there will be less available for the health workers and sick people who truly need them. Instead, discuss reasonable preparedness steps with your family.
Don’t contribute to a panic mentality by allowing bias and stereotypes to mutate into xenophobia and blaming. Here is some good advice on how schools can help prevent anti-Asian prejudice. Encourage your child’s school to follow suit. Being less self-focused is a tried and true stress-reliever for children and adults alike.
Be careful with the news media.
You are your child’s best information filter. We are now inundated with headlines such as “How likely am I to die from coronavirus?” Never forget that a news website’s goal is to drive traffic first, inform second. For every responsible attempt to report on the situation there are many more that amplify fear and misinformation. Be prepared to monitor the media your children are exposed to and help them properly contextualize it. Anxious scanning of headlines isn’t likely to yield much helpful insight, but timely updates from public health officials will.
Manage your own feelings about COVID-19.
Managing your own feelings of stress can help you work through them and avoid passing them on to your child. Any advice to your child about sticking to facts and managing news consumption goes doubly for you. You shouldn’t provide false assurance that everything is normal and nothing will change, but neither should you surrender your calm.
Don’t forget who you are.
One of the joys of parenting is that it forces you to stay radically present. For your child, help them stay grounded by keeping things that are in their control (homework, activities, regular routines) top of mind even with all that’s going on. COVID-19 is an established fact that, to varying degrees, we’ll all be living with for a while. All the more reason to remember our deepest values and continue to cherish our everyday commitments. For it is love of family, and love of community, that will help us adapt and overcome.