Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

Written by: Michael Hawton

We can only do our best and then some more when it comes to a problem like the spread of a pandemic. That said, we should get things in proportion when it comes to these types of things.  Around children, I believe that what you tell them should be on a need-to-know basis.  We should not be repeatedly exposing children to events over which they have little if any, control

“Parents should acknowledge how children are feeling about things.”

Of course, we should acknowledge how they are feeling about things; then, we should move on. Tell them that the people, who are the experts in dealing with these types of problems, are doing their best to control things.

Over-exposing young and middle-aged children to endless visual media reports on drought, fires, and pandemics is a recipe for making an already-existing anxiety problem amongst children even more prominent. In a primary principals’ survey done in late 2019, before the bushfires and before the coronavirus took hold, over 80% of principals identified anxiety as a significant issue within schools. We shouldn’t be making it worse for kids.

First fact
There have been approximately 198,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases, globally, thus far.

Second fact
Hardly any children 0-9, have died. I don’t know of one case!
(Case fatality rate of COVID-19 by age, https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus, 28.03.20)

Third fact
Most children only experience symptoms of a bad flu.

The reality is that children need our help to measure their emotional responses to these types of problems. Of course, being measured can also include taking action, such as washing your hands and sneezing into your elbow crease and being more conscious of not sharing eating utensils.

“Children need our help to measure their emotional responses to these types of problems.”

That said, to dwell on the possibility that you or they might contract the illness is most likely a waste of energy and is also a distorted way of thinking.  Habits of catastrophic thinking among the population are already on the increase in our society and it is affecting children simply because they will tend to mimic what they see others around them doing.

“Two-thirds of child anxious behaviours are learnt.”

Where a problem is so amorphous and seems to seep into every crevice of our lives, dwelling on it constantly can leave children feeling overwhelmed, frustrated and, sometimes, defeated, sad and anxious.

Children need adults around them to help them to ‘co-regulate’, which is just a fancy way of saying that kids need adults to not get things out-of-proportion.  There have been many times in history when we have faced significant global problems, including plagues, the atomic threat of the 1960s and the cold war that bought the threat of mutually assured destruction.  Somehow, humanity worked a way through these problems.  People have previously dealt with hardship, fear and loss but came through these events. It is helpful to keep this in mind. See below tips for talking with children about the coronavirus.

Here are three tips for reducing anxiety in children about Corona-related events:

Once you’ve seen or heard about a complicated world event, don’t keep watching it over and over. Turn the TV off or turn the radio to another station. Try to minimise your children’s exposure to the news of these events. Be especially aware that images are seen on television (or video footage on online media platforms) have a particularly powerful effect on children, especially very young children. If you do need news updates, then maybe read about it privately online.

Try and hear their feelings before moving on to another topic. You can listen to them by simply acknowledging what you believe they might be experiencing. Through this acknowledgement, you’re giving them congruent emotional feedback, which is an essential element of helping children grow their emotional intelligence. Remember your acknowledgement of how they are feeling is not your agreement about how they are seeing things. Just tune-in to what they are saying and where you can, make statements about what you observe – ‘So, seeing those people made you feel pretty worried that it could happen to you here’ or ‘Something in the news so much concerns me too’. Ask them one thing you can do with them to help – then move on. Don’t dwell.

Third tips: SET GOALS
Help them to set goals that they can achieve: By taking reasonable precautions you can stave off the virus. Stay a one and a half metres away from people where possible, get some hand-wipes for your kids’ school bags and tell them not to shake people’s hands or kiss them for the time being.  Tell them to take reasonable precautions to avoid anyone who looks or sounds unwell and, importantly remind them children are far less likely to become really sick.  Help them get things in proportion. That’s a parent’s job. Not everything is a nine out of ten event, requiring a nine out of ten response. The possibility of a child getting very ill from a virus-like COVID -19 in Australia is probably unlikely, so a three out-of-ten event.

“Acknowledgement of how children are feeling does not mean you are in agreement about how they are seeing things.”

Case fatality rate of COVID-19 by age, https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus, 28.03.20

Michael Hawton is the founder of Parentshop, providing education and resources for parents and industry professionals working with children.

For child behaviour management:
Talk Less Listen More and Engaging Adolescents. You can find more information, including his books and self-paced online parenting courses at https://www.parentshop.com.au/parent-courses/

No Scaredy Cats – reducing anxiety and building resilience-thinking skills (2-12) helps the adults in a child’s life to build-up their skill base for helping children manage emerging anxiety, by providing day-to-day tips and strategies.

Click here. for upcoming family practitioner training courses in 2020.

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