Mom hugging child with strong embrace

As COVID-19 continues to dominate the conversation, children are becoming increasingly curious about their changed routines. When a parent works in healthcare, the changes can appear more drastic and even alarming. Many children struggle with anxiety, and this transition can ignite some significant worries.

Stories about healthcare workers have been circulating online. Some have sent their children to stay with friends and family to prevent their exposure to the virus. Others have implemented tedious sanitation plans to reduce the risk of contaminating their home. Even with these proactive tactics, many healthcare workers are still facing stress and anxiety over the concern of bringing the virus home to their families.

Children are curious, and it's only natural for them to wonder what the "hype" is about. Most children of healthcare workers have a general idea of what their parents do, understanding that they help sick and injured people. With all the news about coronavirus circulating, many children will have questions. It is crucial to take a positive approach when addressing their inquiries and concerns.

What We Should Tell Them

As nurses make changes to their routines, many struggle with what to tell their children and how much to divulge. It is important to educate children, without adding additional stressors. They are seeking guidance and reassurance. Find out what they already know about COVID-19, and direct your conversation accordingly.

  • Explain your role in healthcare: Remind the child what you do to help others, and describe your role in the treatment of COVID-19. Explain the extra precautions you and your family are taking to keep everyone safe.
  • Explain what COVID-19 is: It's important for children to understand how the virus works. Remind them how germs spread, and talk to them about what they can do to stay healthy. Explain why people are wearing face masks, and the importance of sanitizing thoroughly after work before making contact with others.
  • Help your child understand what happens when someone gets COVID-19 and the cycle that follows: Reiterate the importance of hand hygiene to avoid exposure to the virus.
  • Explain social distancing: Your child is most likely confused about the strict social distancing guidelines. Explain the importance of staying home to reduce the spread of the virus.

RELATED: How to Juggle Motherhood and Online Schooling While Working as a Nurse During COVID-19

Tips for Helping Children Adapt

Children do not process change in the same way as adults. Their feelings of safety and security are essential, and any disruptions can be met with negative reactions. Many children lack the ability to recognize when they are stressed, which can cause physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. They can become clingy, overly sensitive, or angry, and may have trouble sleeping.

It is important to recognize signs of stress and anxiety in children and help them respond to these feelings in a healthy way. Some tips to provide support include:

  • Be honest. It is essential to remain honest with your child, while keeping all information age-appropriate.
  • Listen to their fears. Give them time to talk through their worries, and let them know you are there whenever they are ready.
  • Answer their questions. Some children will have a lot of questions. Take the time to answer them as best as you can.
  • Explain what will change. Children handle change much better if it's prefaced with a warning. If you know of upcoming changes to their routine, talk to them beforehand. Explain what the change is, and why it is happening.
  • Maintain consistency as much as possible. Routines instill a sense of stability in your child's life, which benefits their mental health. Keep certain lifestyle factors as normal as you can, while introducing a new routine that they can ease into.
  • Focus on the positive. While it may seem like common sense, make every effort to keep the conversation positive. Avoid speaking negatively when kids are around, even if you don't think they are listening. Children develop their thoughts based on what they hear from other people.
  • Limit their media exposure. The media can be scary, even as adults. Children interpret information differently and can become alarmed by news coverage. By limiting their exposure, we can prevent some of these fears and anxieties.

Helping your child understand the role you play in healthcare during a pandemic can be complex. Stay empathetic and reassure them that these changes are temporary. Help your child feel in-control by offering meaningful ways to help prevent the spread. If you notice your child becoming increasingly withdrawn or depressed, reach out to their pediatrician or counselor for guidance. Some children will adjust well, while others may need extra support. Even as adults, these circumstances can be unfamiliar and anxiety-inducing. Stay mindful of your child's behavior and recognize their cues for help.

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Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB
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