As parents and guardians, it is always important to connect with your children. But under conditions of stress or crisis, it is more important than ever to talk to your children and to notice their behaviours. This is a time of great change and uncertainty for all people. Teenagers are at a phase in their lives when their friends and social connections are especially important to them, and lockdown due to COVID-19 has made this very difficult for them.
Teenagers are also vulnerable to the effects of stress, anxiety, and depression during this time. What can parents do about this? Start by asking your children what they know about the virus and the lockdown, and how they feel about these events.
Show your children that you are giving them a safe space to openly and honestly share their thoughts. Listen attentively as they speak. Do not interrupt, do not correct what they are saying, do not laugh at or ridicule your children, and do not cut them off.
If children answer your questions with short or one-word answers, gently ask some probing questions, to encourage them to talk more. For example: ‘What do you mean by that?’ or ‘Can you tell me more about…’
Be patient. Many children will ‘blame’ their parents, and direct their frustration, anger, disappointment, and boredom towards you. As your children speak, make mental notes of their misconceptions about the situation and of their emotional states. Give children accurate, age-appropriate information to correct misconceptions, reduce anxiety, and to give them hope.
Keep the information that you share simple but accurate
Share this information in a calm, clear manner. Do not make promises that you cannot keep, for instance, that you will not catch the virus. However, you can give them reassurances that you will try your very best to stay safe, and to keep your children safe.
Give your children hope. Talk about the fact that this will end, that the scientists and doctors will find a way to fight the virus, and that our lives will eventually go back to normal. Answer your children’s questions as best as you can. Admit when you do not know something. Say something like: ‘That is a very good question. I don’t know the answer, but I will try to find out.’
Try to clear up any misconceptions or misunderstandings that your children may have about the virus or about the lockdown.
Explaining the virus and lockdown to young children
- A virus is an illness, like flu or measles.
- There is a new virus in the world, called the Corona Virus.
- Because it is a brand-new virus, the doctors and scientists need some time to learn about it, so that they can stop this virus from making people sick.
- To give the doctors and scientists some time to learn about the virus, we all need to stay home for a while.
- Then, once the doctors and scientists say it is okay, we will slowly start to go back to school and work, so that we all stay safe.
- Explaining the virus and lockdown to pre-teens and teens Note: Use your discretion to decide how much information to share with your children.
- You do not want to raise their stress or anxiety.
- A virus is an illness, like flu or measles.
- There is a new virus in the world, called the Corona Virus, or COVID-19. This stands for: Corona Virus Disease of 2019.
The virus spreads between people who are in close contact with one another, like when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be spread when you touch an infected surface or object, for instance, if someone has sneezed on a table, then you touch the table and transmit the virus to yourself through touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
- This virus affects people in different ways:
- Some people have the virus, but they don’t feel sick at all. We say they are asymptomatic.
- Most people feel sick for a week or two. They usually have a temperature, aches, and pains in their body, and may have a cough. Then, they recover and are completely fine.
- A small percentage of people become very ill and may need to go to the hospital for a while.
- People younger than 18 are less likely to have symptoms, and less likely to get very sick. If they do get sick, they usually recover well. 7
- Because this is a new virus, doctors and scientists need some time to learn about it, so that they can develop a vaccination and better treatments.
- To give the doctors and scientists time to learn about the virus, we all need to stay home for a while.
- This lockdown period also gives our government time to prepare our public health system – to train hospital staff and put proper systems in place, to buy enough equipment for all hospitals, and to hire as many hospital staff as possible.
- Once the spread of the virus is under control, and our hospitals are ready to care for many sick people, the lockdown may slowly be lifted.
- People will start going back to work and school in a staggered manner – not all at once.
Many of us will still have to be tested, and there will still be many rules to follow to ensure that the virus stays controlled. Look for warning signs that your child is not coping. (Some of these warnings are more likely to be seen in teenagers.)
- Feeling sad or crying when there is no apparent reason
- Anger and frustration when there is no apparent reason
- Not taking part in activities they would usually enjoy at home
- Loss of interest in spending time with family or friends via social media
- Arguing or fighting with family or friends on social media
- Tiredness and loss of energy
- Sleeping too much or struggling to sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behaviour
- Self-harm (e.g. cutting, burning, or otherwise hurting themselves) Dealing with children and teens who are not coping with the lockdown
Talk to your children about aggressive or negative behaviour that you would like changed and give them clear alternatives for what you would like them to do instead. When their behaviour changes for the better, give them positive feedback about what you see (e.g. When you spoke calmly to me, I really appreciated it).
Give your children a lot of love. Tell them that you love them. Listen to them when they talk to you. If you are in lockdown together, give them hugs, and show physical affection. Give your children hope – talk about life after lockdown. Talk about seeing their friends again, about going back to school, about playing outside, and about their plans and dreams for the future.
If the situation does not improve or even gets worse, reach out to one of the many helplines available.