By: Cynthia Hess, PsyD
Pediatric Neuropsychologist Fellow
News of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) is everywhere. The outbreak of the Coronavirus, or any critical event of this magnitude, can be stressful for people and communities. For some, the anxiety can be overwhelming. Children may also be experiencing stress and anxiety as news spreads through classrooms and on the playground. Furthermore, they are likely being asked to wash their hands or use sanitizer more frequently than ever before; a constant reminder of the seriousness of the situation, often without a having clear understanding of why these actions are important. As with any critical incident, it is important to maintain open communication with children and provide them with factual information, without going into too much detail, especially when the specifics are changing every minute. With regards to children:
- Answer any questions they may have honestly and in a way they will understand. You may not know all the answers, but it’s important that they know that they have someone with whom they can share their concerns.
- Encourage your child/children to share information they may have heard about the coronavirus with you and to share their feelings about it. Correct any misinformation they have heard, also in a way that they can understand.
- Reassure your child that the risk of COVID-19 infection still remains low, at least at this time, and remind them that children seem to be having milder symptoms.
- Limit children’s exposure to the news.
When events happen in our world that feel out of control, we often experience high levels of stress. Now is a great time for everyone, including parents and caregivers, to remember to practice self-care and self-compassion. Acknowledge your own feelings of stress and anxiety and accept that they are a natural response to a critical situation and one over which we have no control. With that in mind:
- Exercise is a great tool for managing stress and anxiety. Try to carve out time to move your body by keeping up with a current exercise regimen or going for a walk.
- Practice mindful breathing. Deep breathing reminds your brain that you are okay. These exercises can be short, 30-60 seconds of a mindful activity that relieves the pressure that intense periods of stress and anxiety create. They can also be done with children. One technique is breathing in for the count of 4, holding your breath for 7, and exhaling for 8. Do this 3-or-4 times and notice the relief.
- Try using a grounding technique where you look for 5 things you see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can taste, and 1 thing in the present moment that you are grateful for. This exercise focuses on your senses, which are present moment experiences.
- Pay attention to your sleep and make sure you are getting enough rest.
For more advice for managing this uncharted territory in which we find ourselves, several helpful websites are listed below.
Keep calm and breathe, and remember, this too shall pass.
About the Author
Dr. Cynthia Hess recently graduated from Rivier University with a PsyD in Counseling and School Psychology. Previously, she earned an M.A. from Antioch New England in Applied Psychology. She also worked as an elementary school counselor and school psychologist for 15 years before embarking on her doctorate. During her doctorate, she did her pre-doctoral internship with RIT in Rochester, N.Y. where she worked with youth ages 5-17 who had experienced complex developmental trauma. Dr. Hess’s first post-doctoral fellowship was with The Counseling Center of New England where she provided psychotherapy and family therapy to children ages 5-18, their families and young adults. She also trained part-time with a pediatric neuropsychologist conducting neuropsychological evaluations. Currently, Dr. Hess is a second-year post-doctoral fellow in pediatric neuropsychological assessment, working with NESCA Londonderry’s Dr. Angela Currie and Dr. Jessica Geragosian.
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