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What Is Your Child Really Thinking During COVID-19?

Father & son in kitchen

Children have unique ways of processing the world around them. These vary depending on the child’s age and stage of development. During this unpredictable time of quarantine and social distancing, many children feel increased anxiety and have lots of questions, but may lack the words or comprehension to communicate their fears. 

As certified Child Life Specialists, we are experts in the developmental needs of children and are trained to help them cope with stress and uncertainty through therapeutic play and age-appropriate conversations. It may help to understand how children process typical stressors at each developmental stage, in order to better support and comfort your child through this challenging time. 

Infants

Infants are sensitive to emotional cues, so be aware of your feelings during this time. You can encourage secure attachment and positive bonding by offering lots of physical affection. 

Activities to try:

  • Use FaceTime, Zoom or Skype to welcome a newborn child
  • Celebrate milestones with photos, social media, e-mail or texts

Toddlers/Preschoolers

Toddlers may interpret strict rules as punishment. Give your child a sense of control by allowing them choices within their day, such as selecting food, clothing or activities. Preschoolers have curious and imaginative minds. They may fantasize a far worse scenario than reality. Always be honest and allow your child to ask questions so they can discuss their fears with you; this allows you the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions.

Activities to try:

  • Wave to family and friends from the car, beep for fun
  • Enjoy a meal outdoors—have a picnic in the backyard
  • Draw with chalk on the driveway or paint a window
  • Enjoy sensory play using finger paints or shaving cream, hide fun items in a bin of sand or rice, or make sensory bags
  • Encourage imaginative play by having children dress up and FaceTime a loved one to act and pretend
  • Practice gross motor skills by building an obstacle course in the house. Video your child completing the course and send it to family and friends 

School Age

Kids this age have begun to master self-control and fear losing it. Remind children they play a part in preventing infection through hand washing, eating healthy and exercising. This fosters a greater sense of control and well-being, which minimizes anxiety. School age children may be worried about saying something embarrassing during virtual learning. Be supportive and empathetic when teaching. Check their understanding by having them repeat information back to you. This learning style is new for everyone, so be patient with yourself and your kids.

Activities to try:

  • Teach your child a new skill such as cooking, sewing, drawing or planting a garden 
  • Play video games online with friends (stay mindful of screen time and limit to designated hours)
  • Stay active and play outside—hike with siblings and create a nature poster, throw a Frisbee or football, play four square in the driveway, or any favorite outdoor game

Teens

Teenagers strive to be independent. They may worry about losing their privacy and autonomy during this experience. Encourage them to stay connected with friends. Stay positive and plan new activities when social events are cancelled.

Activities to try:

  • Stay connected on social media
  • Play charades via Zoom
  • Spread positivity with positive quotes and memes
  • Journal daily to express feelings
  • Write and mail letters to friends and family

No matter what your child’s developmental stage, try these tips to promote positive coping:

  • Enlist your child’s help in making a family schedule. Keeping a routine will help provide predictability and a sense of control. Involving the whole family in coming up with fun activities and chores can encourage a positive outcome.
  • Give your children the opportunity to ask questions about coronavirus and continue to have ongoing conversations with them. Be mindful only to answer what they ask. Providing additional information can overwhelm them.
  • Monitor viewing of social media and television which can increase their fear and anxiety.
  • Model calm behavior. A caregiver’s anxiety can easily transfer to children.
  • Empower your children to think of others and find creative ways to be a helper.
author name

Katelyn Stoltzfoos, CCLS

Katelyn Stoltzfoos, CCLS, is a certified Child Life Specialists at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. Learn more about the Child Life program.

Call: 717-544-3138

author name

Janet Lazur, CCLS

Janet Lazur, CCLS, is a certified Child Life Specialists at Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. Learn more about the Child Life program. 

Call: 717-544-8673

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.

 

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