Listen, acknowledge and reassure
Make sure you check-in with your taitamaiti / child or teen regularly:
- Start by asking what your taitamaiti / child knows about COVID.
- Listen more than you talk and try to validate their feelings. Let them know that it’s normal to feel this way and that others are also having similar feelings.
- Reassure your taitamaiti / child that they are loved, cared for and safe.
- Remind your taitamaiti / child that some people only experience mild symptoms and reassure them that more people are recovering from the virus than dying from it. You could tell them that it’s unlikely they’ll get very ill, and if they do you’ll look after them, and if you get the virus you’ll probably be ill for only a few days.
Control access to news and social media
Hearing regular COVID-19 news can increase distress in anyone, but especially in those already feeling stressed or anxious. It’s a good idea to decrease your viewing time in common whānau areas of your home. If necessary, read news reports discretely on your phone away from your tamariki /children. Be mindful of little ears playing nearby that overhear news you’re watching or hearing.
Fuelling many people’s anxiety is the spread of misinformation on social media and through YouTube videos. Try to limit your information seeking to a few credible sources so you can stay informed without feeling overwhelmed. Help your tamariki / children to understand that there are experts working on things and let them learn how to seek this knowledge in a scientific and thoughtful way.
Be honest and give simple answers to their questions. You can correct misinformation but avoid telling them not to worry. The goal is to help your taitamaiti / child realistically evaluate risks based on available information.
You might say, “We can do things to try to stay healthy, like washing our hands regularly and avoiding touching our faces,” “It’s true that some people have died from this, and most people who get this illness are OK,” or “Doctors and scientists are working hard to learn how to stop it from spreading”.
Look after yourself
It’s important that you’re aware of your own anxiety levels and emotional needs: you need to be in the best position possible so you can look after your taitamaiti / child. Strengthen yourself so you can be strong for them. Try to eat, sleep and exercise as well as you possibly can and ask for help from trusted friends and whānau when you need it.
Managing a taitamaiti / child with an existing anxiety disorder or mental health condition
For tamariki / children with an existing anxiety disorder or mental health condition, health threats can lead to heightened distress and worry. Some tamariki / children will need to have support from professionals, especially if their responses are severe or ongoing.
If you’re concerned, contact your doctor.
All content provided by Dr Hiran Thanbrew, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and paediatrician at Starship Children's Hospital.