Adults are stressed over the impact of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) such as the possibility of getting infected, daily survival, mobility and disruption to livelihood due to strict community quarantine, and the overall uncertainties of the situation.
It may not always seem obvious, but children like adults experience fear and anxiety over the current situation. These children who have to stay at home, cannot go to school, and cannot play with their friends may experience distress.
Save the Children Philippines called on parents and guardians to observe and talk to children during this time as they may also experience fear or anxiety that manifests in many ways depending on their stage of development.
Some of the common reactions of children to a stressful event are:
- Clinging to parents or guardians
- Regression to younger behavior like thumb sucking or bedwetting
- Disturbances in sleeping or eating patterns
- Increased crying and irritability
- Becoming withdrawn or hyperactive
Atty. Alberto Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines, said children have the right to age-appropriate information about the COVID-19 pandemic to help them understand the reason for the community quarantine that limits their mobility and to ease anxieties that they might be experiencing.
“Sharing age-appropriate information about the COVID-19 pandemic will also help children understand that complying with mitigation measures will contribute to the national and global efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19,” he said.
“While Local Government Units (LGUs) implement precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19, these measures must be implemented with the best interest of the child in mind,” said Atty. Muyot, as he called on the Department of Education and LGUs to implement comprehensive plans to enable remote learning for students who miss out on school, and ensure children will have access to appropriate care such as routine healthcare services in the event an adult caregiver requires hospitalization.
Save the Children is conducting online consultations with children in resettlement sites in Pasay, Tanay, Rizal and Naic, Cavite to understand how mitigation measures such as class suspensions, community quarantine, and physical distancing are affecting their lives.
The consultation will also promote awareness on personal hygiene, physical distancing, cough etiquette to children and their families to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.
Wilma Bañaga, Child Protection Advisor of Save the Children Philippines said: “Parents should continue to provide their children with a safe and caring environment where they can freely express and communicate their worries and fears about what is currently happening, and be provided with the necessary information, comfort, and support to address their concerns.”
She reminded parents and caregivers to observe the following in talking to Children about the COVID-19:
- Make them feel safe
Be honest and give children information to make them feel as safe as possible. Parents and guardians must follow guidelines in keeping the family and the place sanitized. They must provide comfort to children when manifesting anxiety and fears through hugs or soothing words, and assure them that they are there to protect them.
- Stick to the facts and use words that can easily be understood by children
Having the right information lessens children’s distress. Give your children factual information, but not too much information as it can be overwhelming. Listen to the child’s questions and worries to have an informed conversation.
- Validate their feelings, while reassuring them
Ask children how they feel and assure them that everyone is working together to keep each other healthy. Children need to hear what needs to be done to help stop the spread of the virus.
Tell your child: “I know you are irritable right now because you are getting bored that we cannot go out. I understand that feeling. We are all experiencing that as well, but we can do some fun activities together inside the house. Do you have any suggestions?”
Or “I understand you are afraid and it is ok to be afraid because the situation is really scary but people in government all over the world are working together to find a solution to this situation as soon as possible. Many people who get sick also recover, and we are doing our part to help in not spreading the virus by staying at home.”
- Regularly check on your children
Aside from checking on the health status of your children, parents and guardians should have a regular conversation with them to ask what they know about COVID-19. Children and teenagers get information from different sources, some of which may not be trustworthy. So, it is important to let them know that any time they have a question on what is currently happening, and if they want to clarify things they read or heard, they can always come to you. Answer any questions they might have and address any misinformation. If older children wish to watch the news, watch it together so you can answer any questions.
- Children can contribute
Remind them of what’s in their power—washing hands thoroughly and often, practice cough etiquette, and getting plenty of sleep, etc. Children deal with stressful situations better when they know what to do and how to do it. Talk about ways to prevent getting ill and not pass the virus to others, such as cooperating with the authorities’ efforts by staying at home during community quarantine.
- Model good hygiene, and try to make it fun!
Children remember things easier when they are taught in a fun and creative manner. Help them remember the preventive measures against COVID-19 through song or dance like the #Covidance from the Department of Health. You can also teach them about the importance of washing their hands with soap through the ‘pepper experiment’ or as simple as singing their favorite song while washing their hands for 20 seconds!
- Save the Children’s Psychological First Aid Training Manual for Child Practitioners accessed 23 March 2020, https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/library/save-children-psychological-first-aid-training-manual-child-practitioners
- 7 Simple Tips on How to Talk to Kids About the Coronavirus, accessed 23 March 2020, Save the Children United States https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/emergency-response/coronavirus-outbreak/coronavirus-outbreak-how-to-explain-children
- 6 Tips on how to talk to children about the Coronavirus, accessed 23 March 2020, https://savethechildren1.sharepoint.com/:w:/s/SosialeMedierogkontaktmedstttespillere/EXpgZhRL0PdPr-Nk_nuDH0UBdSmJJTfDTSR6FrxdeCnaOA?e=Td1l8e
- Key Messages and Actions for COVID-19 Prevention and Control in Schools, accessed 23 March 2020, https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/key-messages-and-actions-for-covid-19-prevention-and-control-in-schools-march-2020.pdf?sfvrsn=baf81d52_4