Help Kids Adjust to Changing COVID-19 Guidelines
Each time we enter a new phase of the pandemic, new questions and feelings come up. As more people (adults and kids) get the vaccine, masking requirements begin to change and places grow more crowded, you and your children may experience a wide range of emotions.
Regardless of how you feel about the guidelines, your kids more than likely need your help adjusting to the changes.
How to talk to your kids about COVID-19 guidelines
- Ask your child what they know. Before you even start sharing with your child, it’s helpful to find out what they have read or heard.
- Correct any misinformation you hear. Is what your child heard true and accurate? Older kids, in particular, may be getting their information (or misinformation) from friends and social media. It is important to correct any misinformation you hear and teach your child how to find credible sources. Younger kids are more likely to misinterpret information they hear and may need your help to better understand it.
- Use clear, simple language to explain expectations at school, stores, doctor’s offices and other places they will visit in the community, and how masking requirements may be different for people who are vaccinated or not. Things are evolving every day, so let kids know what to expect as new recommendations are announced.
- Acknowledge that it’s confusing when the guidance changes, but remind your child that there are a lot of people working very hard to help us get back to normal in a safe way.
- Explain that the more people get vaccinated, the closer we are to getting back to normal without masks and social distancing.
- Explain that masks are still required in some places and for some people.
- Create a safe space for ongoing conversation. Encourage your kids to continue to ask questions whenever they are unsure by acknowledging their feelings and supporting them. You won’t always have all the answers, so it’s more than OK to tell them you’re not sure and you will get back to them.
How to acknowledge your child’s feelings
- Keep your cool. You are human and have your own feelings, too. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed or uneasy; just keep in mind that kids look to adults to see how they should behave or react. If you are panicking, your kids will think they should be panicking too. Try as best you can to share your calm instead of any anxiety.
- Engage in active listening. If your child feels like they have your full attention, they are more likely to open up to you (or even come to you in the first place).
- Encourage the identification and expression of feelings. Some kids may be excited to get back to what they consider normal. Others may feel on edge and uncomfortable about easing restrictions on masks and distancing. Encourage your child to identify and express whatever they feel.
- Validate their feelings. Let your child know you understand how they are feeling by repeating back exactly what you hear, without judging or interpreting. Reassure them that their feelings are normal and that you will help them through it.
How to support your child as guidelines change
- Stick to the facts and present moment. Worrying about the unknown can easily lead to feeling anxious. Help your child focus on the facts and what we know. If they are overwhelmed thinking about the future, and all the “what if” scenarios, try to help your child shift their focus to what we know in the current moment.
- Take it one day at a time. It can be overwhelming to jump back into anything too quickly, so encourage your child to take things one step at a time. Help your child ease back in a way that feels doable.
- Focus on what you can control. This is a good opportunity to teach your child that we can’t control other people, but we can control ourselves. Help your child understand that they may see other people without masks, but that they can continue to wear theirs if they want or need to. You can also remind them they can help to keep themselves (and others) safe by washing their hands, keeping their distance and staying home if they are sick.
- Teach tolerance. This is an opportunity to teach the importance of being open, accepting, and respectful of ideas, beliefs and behaviors that are different from yours (even if you don’t agree with or approve of them). From a young age, children are watching adults, looking for cues on how to respond to different situations, so be mindful of what you are showing them. If you model tolerance in your words and behavior, your kids will learn to be open, accepting and respectful of differences too.
- Practice healthy habits. Taking care of both our bodies and our minds, by prioritizing nutrition and sleep, being active and limiting screen time, can help us feel better in times of stress and in everyday life.
- Teach coping strategies. Coping skills help us manage our feelings and handle our stress. Introduce and practice new coping skills when everyone is calm, and teach your child to use those coping strategies whenever they feel overwhelmed or anxious (e.g., taking slow deep breaths, going for a walk or doing something active, reading, drawing, listening to music, journaling, etc.).
Transition and change may not be easy, but they are natural parts of life. By helping kids learn how to identify, express and cope with their feelings, you are helping them become more resilient (better able to handle life’s ups and downs).
Every child responds differently to stress and change. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health or well-being, consider consulting with your pediatrician or a licensed mental health professional.