Managing Your Child’s COVID-19 Fears

By Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D

Everywhere you turn there’s news of COVID-19—some of it dire, much of it scary and all of it discomforting. And that’s from an adult’s perspective. Imagine what your kids are internalizing.

Even those too young to understand what a pandemic is know something is terribly wrong. They’ve been pulled out of school indefinitely, the grocery store shelves are bare, and someone is after them 24-7 to “wash your hands!”

How can you convey a sense of calm, de-escalate your child’s fears, and provide a sense of “normalcy” under these extraordinary circumstances?

Here are 10 ideas that may help your children with LD, NLD, and ADHD cope with this situation.

  1. Provide facts that are age-appropriate. Many kids with learning differences (and plenty without LD) are concrete. Explain that this virus is like a new flu (something they know) and people don’t want to get sick. One way to catch it is to be close to people who have it or by touching things they’ve touched. That’s why we do all the handwashing and you’re out of school. It’s to keep us healthy.
  2. Limit exposure to the media. All news, all the time heightens anxiety. Adults need to stay appraised of new developments, but no one needs the constant repetition of the same news stories playing 24/7 in the background.
  3. If you go to work or to a meeting, your child may be frightened that you’ve been exposed. Explain that you know the safety rules and would not risk getting sick and bringing it home.
  4. If you have to work at home, kids will want your attention. Explain you need to work, but work in chunks: 50 minutes of work, then some time with the kids; work time, then kid time. Ideally you can arrange your work time to coincide with the distance-learning assignments they’re doing for school.
  5. If they’re bored out of their minds, has lots of suggestions for activities and movies. Here’s a site with 30-minute at-home crafts: There’s always charades which can be very funny!
  6. Go outside for walks or bike rides (not to playgrounds) to avoid “cabin fever.” Play games outside if the weather permits.
  7. Social isolation doesn’t mean don’t be in touch. FaceTime or Skype with family members and their friends.
  8. If your child gets stuck thinking about the virus and people getting sick, help find distractions with preferred activities, family movies, etc. Help them use self-calming techniques (meditations are good) and use self- talk: “I’m OK, and we’re all taking good care of ourselves.”
  9. If you need to self- isolate because you’re in a high-risk group, explain that it doesn’t mean you’re sick; it means you are being very careful.
  10. If you or anyone in the family are sick, explain what’s happening calmly. Explain that the sick person will be staying alone so no one else gets sick, but that you are taking good care of them and they will get better. If anyone meeting those criteria or anyone else is hospitalized, explain that doctors will take very good care of them.

Marcia Eckerd is an evaluator, consultant, and therapist who specializes in working with children with NLD and autism-spectrum disorders.

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