Pediatric Emotional Guidance
Discussing coronavirus with your children
Your child’s health and safety are the most important priority for you. With all the challenges they have living with IBD amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to check in on their mental health. Explore the talking points and tips below to help calm their fears.
Talking to younger children
Although young children may not always understand complex scientific information, they do pick up on the emotional cues and tones of their loved ones, in their school or daycare setting. They likely have heard about coronavirus through school, TV or other media outlets, which can have them worried. Ask them what they have heard. Take time to pause and explain to your child what the coronavirus is, and why it is important for them to protect themselves. Here are examples of talking points that can be customized to your needs:
- “People who are taking medications for (Crohn’s disease/ ulcerative colitis] like you are, have to be extra careful. We all have to wash our hands, and stay away from others not in our family for now as much as we can so we don’t get sick...”
- “Our normal schedule might be changing for a little bit, but it’s just so we stay healthy and safe! Maybe we can do a FaceTime play date with your friends today instead!”
- Remind children frequently to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds when they come in from outside, before meals, after sneezing, coughing, or using the bathroom by saying, “Let’s sing a song while we wash our hands to make sure we are washing for long enough.” Some songs you can sing are "Happy Birthday" (twice), "Mary Had a Little Lamb," or "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." (See CDC recommendations for handwashing.)
- If you don’t have the answers to all their questions right now, that’s okay! The most important thing is to reassure them that the adults around them are working very hard to keep them safe. Keep the conversation open and encourage them to ask any questions they may have.
- Try to maintain familiar routines in daily life as much as possible, particularly as children are out of school or daycare. Younger children find familiar routines and structure in their day to be comforting. If your child is home from school/daycare, instill a daily schedule with educational and physical activities.
- Monitor your own anxiety and how it may reflect on your child. Try to speak to your child in a calm and reassuring demeanor. If you find yourself stressed, take some time before talking to your child.
Talking to teens
Your teen is likely aware of, or alarmed by, the news and practices within various states to minimize the spread of the virus through social distancing. Be candid with your teen about the situation but help them understand that you and their loved ones want to ensure they are supported. Example talking points that can be customized to your needs include:
- “There are recommendations for people who are taking medications that suppress the immune system to be very careful and limit getting exposed to this virus. In order, for us to lower the risk of exposing ourselves and you to the virus, we have to stop going to places where there are large gatherings of people…”
- “I know you were looking forward to (the end of the school year, certain activities), but right now we have to postpone some things to keep us safe…”
Every parent knows the best way to address this topic with their child, and there are many resources available to help families cope with stress, anxiety and fears around the virus. Some tips to help your children cope include:
- Take advantage of the time together to offer additional support and reassurance.
- Give them space to express themselves or have welcomed distractions. This can be through art activities, time to do what they most enjoy, or other hobbies. Explain the need to limit social gatherings.
- Allow them the opportunity to learn something new or engage in other types of learning as a family. This can be engaging and help the entire family. Be understanding if children express their concerns through various emotions, like crying, anger, frustration. Your support is vital to them during this challenging time.
- Seek a mental health professional. Contact your healthcare team to learn if there are any mental health services they recommend. If you have a mental health professional in mind, call in advance and inquire about the ability to do a visit virtually. The Rome Foundation offers a directory of psychologists that have a gastrointestinal expertise.
- Connect with friends and family. There are many ways to connect with others through technology. Take time to check in with your loved ones, with video conferencing, or phone calls.
- If possible, enjoy fresh air, while keeping social distancing recommendations. If you have a backyard, take advantage of some time outdoors. Go for a walk.
- Encourage movement and exercise as much as possible. If you have to stay indoors, there are many child-friendly educational resources that allow kids to engage in physical activity at home. Yoga could be great exercise for the body and nerves! (See resources section below for an example).
- Parents need to take care of themselves too! Parents can find support through the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation or other local resources. During this time of recommended social distancing, there are many virtual resources available that you can access at the convenience of your own home, including:
For more information:
- COVID-19 and Mental Health
- CDC: Helping Children Cope
- AACAP: Talking to Children About Coronavirus (COVID19)
Lending a Helping Hand
Taking good care of your own mental health and well-being is important, but we also know how vital it is to help those in need. Studies show that altruism (the practice of selflessness and concern for the well-being of others) can have helpful impacts on mental health1. The Foundation’s mission has been possible with the help, support, and care of volunteers in the community. During this time of social distancing, find ways to reach out to others and offer support, or just check in on their well-being. Consider using technology as a means for this outreach. You can also use the Foundation’s support programs if you are looking to connect with others yourself.
The resources below are offered for informational purposes only. This is not an exhaustive list of resources and they are not endorsed or developed by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Any exercises, or mental health coping strategies can be discussed further with your healthcare team.
- Talking about coronavirus with your children, and other activities:
- Mindfulness apps:
- Exercise and meditation:
- There are many exercise videos (such as yoga, etc.) that are child-friendly and can be found on YouTube. Parents can search for videos and participate in exercises of their choice together as a family. It is always a good idea to contact your child’s healthcare team to ensure specific exercises are safe if you have special concerns. (Additional examples: https://www.gonoodle.com/, https://www.cosmickids.com/category/watch/)
This information was reviewed by the Pediatric Affairs Committee of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. Content review was also provided by Janis Arnold, MSW.
Last updated: 4/29/20