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How to unpack COVID-19 for kids

PLATTSBURGH — In addition to working from home and/or homeschooling their children, parents also need to unpack the coronavirus for their children.

“The key is to start talking to children as young as parents want to, but with developmentally appropriate language,” said Dr. Aron Steward, chief of psychology at University of Vermont Health Network’s Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital.

“What they have to remember is that they can talk to their 3 and 4-year-olds, but they have to do it in a way that has words and language that is on their level.”

Keep it simple

The most important thing is that parents pay attention to their children’s age and developmental ability and adjust their explanations so that kids can understand what they are saying.

CVPH uses a pamphlet, “Talking to Children About Coronavirus” produced by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“There are 14 different bullet points, but one of them that is really, really important is using words and concepts that children understand,” Steward said.

“Another one for parents to think about for younger kids and even teenagers, you have to rinse and repeat an explanation like this. Kids and adolescents will come back around asking sometimes the same question over again. They are looking for reassurance. So repeat information and explanations as many times as the kids need them.

“That there is a lot of help out there, and people are working really, really hard.

“So asking questions, looking for data, looking for facts, fact checking.

“Build an environment of curiosity so that kids understand they don’t have to have all the answers and that the parents don’t have to have all the answers.”

Tell the truth

“That can mean sometimes saying you don’t know when you don’t know, and answering questions as honestly as possible in developmentally appropriate language,” she said.

“Because kids learn how scared to be by watching their parents.

“Certainly some parents are watching and listening to a lot of media, but the kids, the younger they are, the less media that they should be exposed to.

“Kids can learn about scary things from people that they care about, but they have a hard time understanding from people that they don’t care about.

“Like if the child has already been exposed to serious illness or losses or if there’s mental illness or trauma, they may need extra support and attention.”

Connect via tech

“With all of the social distancing, parents should find creative ways to keep kids connected to the people that they love,” she said.

If a child seems preoccupied or overwhelmed, a parent should get a second opinion and bring them to see a qualified mental-health professional.

“They should be able to play and process through some of what they are learning using their own developmental tools, which are playing games, being outside,” Steward said.

“Children really need that time in order to process through difficult topics. I have two kids I am explaining all this too at the same time as working on it.”

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