by Mary Ann LoFrumento, MD, pediatrician
Children ages five to 12 will have very different needs. The younger the child, the more you should keep discussions direct and simple. The older the child, the more they will need to ask their questions and share their fears with you.
In the smartphone era it is difficult to limit this age group’s access to the news. Focus on limiting overexposure and make sure that the information they get is accurate. Remember, children do not need all the details, but they can be informed that there may have to be changes within the family and need assurance that you will keep them involved.
Social isolation for this age group can be very challenging. Explain why we are doing this. Explain how we are helping the doctors and nurses take care of the patients they have and making sure we protect the elderly and friends or neighbors who have issues that might make them more vulnerable.
Disappointments are inevitable regarding sporting events, parties, graduations, vacations, etc. Be honest and open with your children. They may surprise you with their understanding and resilience. Let them know that we will get past this and the world has survived difficult times before.
For older kids, discussing historical examples, and highlighting times when the world joined together and overcame great challenges might be helpful. Tell stories about their grandparents and great-grandparents and things that they faced: from polio, to the Great Depression, and to World War II and emphasize hope.
Tips for School-Age Children:
- Get the facts straight. Start any conversation by asking your child what they have heard or learned and always ask, “Where did you hear that?" Provide information in a clear and direct manner and ask if they have any questions. Let them know they can come and ask you about anything that they hear. It’s ok to acknowledge some of this information might be scary, especially for kids ages nine to 12.
- Try to keep opinions out of it. Children of this age will often adopt the opinions of their parents when discussing a topic and share them with others, so pay attention to what you express in front of your children. Try to emphasize that we are looking to the scientists and doctors to come up with solutions. And there is every hope that we will get this under control soon. (Children trust scientists and doctors like they trust their parents and teachers).
- Share your feelings with your children but don’t overwhelm them. Let them know that it is okay to feel sad, angry, or even worried. It's important for them to see that these feelings are normal. Practice active listening and don’t dismiss things that make them frustrated or sad, like missing soccer or dance.
- Be a role model. Children this age want to feel protected and safe and they will look to you for this. As with younger children, if you appear in control and assure them that they are safe, they will feel secure. Also keeping to the family routine as much as possible is very helpful. On this same note – make sure they are doing all their required schoolwork. It’s hard to do this and do your own work. But they need to stay engaged and learning.
- Enlist their help! Ask them to come up with an idea or a project that helps others. Find out what community projects they can get involved with. Join forces and communicate with other parents.
- Keep an eye on social media. Social dynamics with kids can worsen with too much down time and frustration at being cooped up. Ask your kids to tell you about what’s happening online.
- Go outside! Get kids outside whenever it is possible and have them play games or exercise. This is good for the whole family.
- Find creative outlets. For some school age kids, it is still difficult to share all their feelings in words. Play, art, and music can be helpful for expressing their feelings.