Dealing with COVID-19

Therapists Offer Suggestions for Talking with Children
Posted on 04/23/2020
This is the image for the news article titled Therapists Offer Suggestions for Talking with ChildrenWhen Weakley County Schools initially closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, information for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was immediately shared to help adults have conversations with children about COVID-19 and ways they can avoid getting and spreading the disease.

The CDC recommends the following general principles for talking to children:
• Remain calm and reassuring.
• Make yourself available to listen and to talk.
• Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma.
• Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio, or online.
• Provide information that is honest and accurate.

To answer a child’s question -- What is COVID-19? – the public health entity recommends simply saying, “COVID-19 is the short name for ‘coronavirus disease 2019.’ It is a new virus. Doctors and scientists are still learning about it. Recently, this virus has made a lot of people sick. Scientists and doctors think that most people will be ok, especially kids, but some people might get pretty sick. Doctors and health experts are working hard to help people stay healthy.”

The National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses have issued a document entitled “Helping Children Cope with Changes Resulting from COVID-19.” They note that parents and caregivers have a “tremendous opportunity for adults to model for children problem-solving, flexibility, and compassion as we all work through adjusting daily schedules, balancing work and other activities, getting creative about how we spend time, processing new information from authorities, and connecting and supporting friends and family members in new ways.”

Weakley County Schools’ Student Assistance Program (SAP) counselor, Scott Smiley, MA, of Carey Counseling, has been making calls to students who were already seeing him for counseling. He has yet to see the anticipated rise in anxiety levels due to the closure of schools. However, he thinks that will change now that the academic year is officially at its end and the novelty of an unanticipated break is wearing off.

“We can expect more anxiety and possibly depression,” he explained, adding that parents and caregivers should be on the lookout for a change in a child or youth’s usual conduct or interests, getting angry more often, physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches, a difference in eating and sleeping patterns, increased isolation and avoiding people.

Megan Gaylord, LPC-MHSP, is the supervisor over crisis services at Youth Villages for 18 rural west Tennessee counties and on the advisory council for the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. She agrees families are going to need to be aware of what they can do in response to such changes.

“Families have been forced into the same building for a long period of time so conflicts will arise,” she said. “The erosion of a regular schedule and the loss of structure have impacted our kids and may have exacerbated those with mental health issues.”

Noticing the change might seem to be easier if everyone is under one roof, but, in fact, Gaylord says, the signs of depression or suicidal thinking may be less noticeable. Typically, with teen depression, outbursts of anger or hostility are evident and drug and alcohol abuse may occur.

“These are harder to detect in the current situation,” she explained as youth may now be spending more time in their rooms, angry reactions could be mistakenly viewed only in context of the confinement to homes, and alcohol or drug use would naturally be more difficult.

“Parents need to look for things like what type of media are teens using, what are they talking about with friends, what are they listening to by way of music, has it gotten darker?” she noted.

area resources
If a concern exists, she points to numerous area counseling services and crisis phone or text lines that will provide immediate help to the teen and family.

Not all anxiety leads to thoughts of suicide, but is nonetheless important to note and to deal with, Gaylord shared.

She suggests several simple steps for those who are showing signs of stress:
• Put on clothes rather than stay in sleepwear all day.
• Eat something that is not carbohydrates.
• Take a shower.
• Drink water.
• Remember “sleep hygiene” and turn screens off. “The blue light the phone screen emits mimics the sun,” she said. “Playing on your phone is not going to make you sleepy; it’s going to trick your brain into staying awake.”
• Exercise outdoors.
• Dance the length of one song if you can’t get out and exercise. Families can make this more fun by trying to be the worst dancer in the room.

Another potential trigger for mental health shifts is the loss of huge milestones such as fifth, eighth and senior graduations, prom, and entire seasons of sports.

“Family celebrations change over time. This year they are going to look different,” she acknowledged. “So we are going to have to adapt.”

She offered several options as substitutes for the more traditional celebrations/events:
• Preparing a favorite meal with music and bright decorations and balloons.
• Plan an online graduation ceremony between friends.
• Seniors create a unique graduation experience with their own productions on a video-sharing online platform.
• Challenge teammates online with workouts and competitions such as how many burpees in a certain amount of time or how many times one can bounce a soccer ball on one’s head without dropping the ball.
• Paint windows or glass doors for the neighborhood to see that a graduate resides there.
• Start an online registry for gifts.
• Plan for a backyard prom when social distancing guidelines are relaxed.

“People are finding ways to celebrate and getting creative about what that looks like,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s whatever marks that day as special for that person.”