Talking to your kids about COVID-19: Sask. psychologists offer tips
Am empty teacher's desk is pictured at the front of a empty classroom at Mcgee Secondary school in Vancouver on Sept. 5, 2014. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
REGINA -- With word of incoming school cancellations in Saskatchewan, COVID-19 has become a nearly unavoidable topic of discussion for many parents to have with their kids.
The premier announced Monday classes in the province would be suspended effective March 20 with an indefinite end date, the latest in a string of interruptions to everyday life.
It has left many kids wondering why school will not be open along with their hockey practices, dance recitals and other activities coming to a complete and total stop.
Keep calm, find out what your kids know
Megan Adams Lebell, a registered psychologist with Wildflowers Children’s Therapy in Regina, says every child will respond differently to what they hear or see about COVID-19 on television, social media and other sources. She emphasizes it’s important for parents to stay calm for the sake of their kids.
“Kids are really sensitive to the way that [parents and adults] handle stress and the way we act and behave and the energy we’re giving off,” Adams Lebell told CTV News. “We want to really make sure we’re managing things for ourselves from a place of calmness, a place of understanding.”
“They really pick up on the way adults around them are managing it.”
Adams Lebell adds because kids are likely to have questions, it’s important for parents to stay informed on what’s happening while also finding what their kids have heard about the virus.
“A good thing for parents is just to ask your child, ‘what have you heard about this?’ Ask them what they know first and get a sense of that. That can sort of help you direct things, and have open, honest conversations with kids,” Adams Lebell said. “Keep things factual and short, don’t over explain. It’s important to not answer questions that haven’t been asked.”
“Often times kids just want to know the facts and the information they need.”
‘Different than a snow day’
Gordon Asmundson, a professor of psychology at the University of Regina, says it’s critical parents help kids understand how unusual the current circumstances are.
“This really is a situation that is different than a snow day, so it’s not a time to be collecting with friends and playing games and socializing. This is a serious situation where we really do need to maintain social distancing,” Asmundson said.
When it comes to talking with kids in the event of self-isolation, Asmundson says to be frank and upfront in an age-appropriate manner.
Routine plays a key role
Both Asmundson and Adams Lebell agree that keeping some form of a routine can help in the weeks to come.
“We’re going to have to find a way to keep our children active and engaged, so finding a routine, because again their daily routine is going be very disrupted without school, without their other activities,” Asmundson said.
Adams Lebell recommends things like still waking kids up at normal times, eating at normal times and even doing some activities similar to what they would be doing at school.
“Trying to keep things as predictable and routine and consistent as possible can be really helpful, especially for kids who maybe are a little more predisposed to be anxious and worried about things,” Adams Lebell said. “Trying to keep them on their regular school schedule as much as you can can be really be helpful in easing that.”
Adams Lebell also says to use technology as an advantage to fill the day.
“Finding different apps for reading, working on math skills, different programs online, different games, things like that just to help keep kids in their regular practice of learning and doing those educational things that they would’ve been doing at school anyway.”
She adds Wildflowers plans to post different things for families to do at home and other programs that could help on their social media channels in the days ahead.
Saskatchewan has seven cases of COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon. All are currently self-isolating in an effort to slow the spread.