Talking to Kids about COVID-19
by Jennifer Gallant, MA, PhD Student in Clinical Psychology, University of New Brunswick
Clarifying the chaos. It is a responsibility of parents/guardians, teachers, and other adults in a child’s life to attend to their well-being, to help guide them through development, and to help them find “the answers” to life’s many questions. With the recent outbreak of COVID-19 and unprecedented government policies, there is, without a doubt, uncertainty, confusion, and chaos affecting all individuals — adults, children, and adolescents alike. Caregivers may thus be unsure of how to approach conversations with children regarding the outbreak and may worry they don't have “the right answers” to give in this context.
While we cannot personally control the spread of the illness, predict the outcome of the outbreak, or eliminate the uncertainty present in this situation, hope is not lost. We have research findings and knowledge of childhood development, as well as knowledge of how past experiences with disease outbreaks have affected children — all of which informs strategies for discussing difficult topics like this with children. With that in mind, parents and caregivers should consider the following strategies:
Make yourself available to listen, talk, and answer questions. Don’t avoid talking about it – instead encourage the child to ask questions. Most children will have heard about it by now and not talking about it can lead them to worry more. Children will often come to you if they’ve heard something frightening, or you can gently “feel them out” to see if they want to discuss it. Find out what they are thinking and what they have heard about COVID-19. Directly address and correct any misinformation or misunderstanding. Be honest and open in answering questions and admit if you don’t know the answer. Keep in mind your child’s age and developmental level—give them the information they need (i.e., answer their questions) without overwhelming them (see table below for examples). Encourage them to continue asking questions and keep the conversation open. But, don’t feel the need to force a conversation if they aren’t ready — you can, instead, focus on other strategies (see below) that may ease their minds.
**See this article for more examples of what to say to children of different age groups.
Remain calm and reassure the child as much as possible. Attend to your own anxiety/stress to prevent it from coming through in conversations with the child. Try to process any fears you may have before you talk to your children — discuss your own fears with a friend, partner, therapist, etc., away from your child’s earshot. Children will look to their caregivers for how to respond in these situations, so it is important to model remaining calm. Emphasize that you and other adults in their lives are there to keep them safe and healthy. Emphasize the safety precautions being taken for them and the family as a whole (e.g., school closures to “clean out schools/prevent spreading”; hand washing; not visiting grandparents, etc.).
Accept and validate their emotions. Children may respond in very different ways (e.g., they may be irritable, clingy, disappointed about missing out on events). Be patient with them, show empathy and understanding for what they are going through, and calmly set limits when needed (e.g., for tantrums/outbursts). Don’t dismiss their fears – listen, validate (e.g., that sounds pretty scary, and it’s normal to feel scared right now), remain calm, and reassure. Normalize any disappointment they may feel – it’s OK to be sad/angry at missing out on important events (birthday parties, graduation celebrations, etc.).
Monitor your child’s access to virus-related information. Provide positive distractions. Stick to a routine. Limit your child’s viewing or access to upsetting information about the outbreak and give them time away from reminders. You may explain that some of the information out there is based on rumors/ is not accurate. Continue to talk to them about factual information in an age-appropriate manner. Furthermore, children respond best when there is predictability in their environment. So, try to keep their routines as consistent as possible (e.g., regular mealtimes and bedtimes; schoolwork time; chore time; play time; technology time). Finally, try to enjoy the time together as much as you can (e.g., play games, cook meals together) and take time to yourself when needed!
Sources of information:
• Child Mind Institute
• Centre for Disease Control and Prevention
• National Association of School Psychologists
by Breagh Newcombe, MSc, PhD Student in Clinical Psychology, University of New Brunswick
Social isolation is a term we have become all too familiar with. While some of us may be enjoying the excuse to stay home and keep to ourselves, others are struggling with this new lifestyle. Although everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, such as the COVID-19 outbreak, some typical reactions may include fear, anxiety, resentment, boredom, loneliness, anger, hopelessness, and depression. During times of uncertainty, it is helpful to remember what is in our control. The following is a list of advice for taking care of your mental health during this time of prescribed social isolation:
Social isolation doesn’t mean emotional isolation. Just because you are being asked to physically distance yourself from the world does not mean you have to emotionally distance yourself as well. It is important to stay connected with friends and family during this time using whatever means possible (online gaming, texting, phone calls, video chats).
Manage the Stress. This is going to mean something different for everyone, and it’s important that you are doing things that give you peace rather than things you are feeling pressured to do. This could include reading, watching T.V., meditating, journaling, cooking, baking, taking a bath, exercising, or finding a way to help others. What’s important is that you find what works for you. Due to social isolation many people may not be getting the physical affection they are used to, finding ways to feel physical comfort can help with this (e.g., wrapping yourself in a cozy blanket or taking a hot bath). It is also important to focus on the positives during this time such as increased time to spend on family activities or hobbies.
Create a routine. Some people find the idea of a schedule to be daunting, but again, it’s important to find what works for you. Having a routine does not mean every hour of your day needs to be planned, but creating structure can help to curb boredom, break up your day, and prevent burnout. You will likely be exposed to a lot of mixed messages in the media about what you should be doing during this time (e.g., exercising, finishing projects, cleaning), but creating a routine is about figuring out how you want to spend your time. Making a schedule is less about the specific activities you are scheduling and more about creating a sense of structure and giving purpose to your actions.
Stay informed but set boundaries. The uncertainty of this pandemic can cause a lot of fear and anxiety. It is important to keep up with changing public safety policies and to understand the risk COVID-19 poses to yourself and to others. Nevertheless, it’s advisable to set boundaries for yourself about when you will allow yourself to read/watch news (never before bed) and the mediums (TV, social media, internet) you will use. Ensure you are getting your information from credible sources, such as the Government of Canada, World Health Organization, or Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Connect with people you can calmly discuss the news with while avoiding the topic with people who only make you more anxious.
Take things one day at a time and remind yourself that social isolation is temporary. Maybe take the lead from a puppy - who lives only for the joy of the moment - our pets are enjoying this time!
Research in the news: Acceptance- what does it mean, why its important, and what gets in the way
RCMP officers with chronic pain needed for paid ($20) telephone interview research!
Please email rehablabUNB@gmail.com to request more information or to express interest. See official advert above (enlarged text below).
A team of researchers at the University of New Brunswick, led by Dr. Diane LaChapelle, is interested in hearing your first-hand account of how living with chronic pain has impacted your life within your police organization. If you are an English speaking man or woman aged 21 or over, live with chronic pain (>3 months), and are currently working as an RCMP officer, you can participate in this study.
Participating will involve completing a very brief questionnaire (e.g., your age, type of chronic pain) and taking part in an audiotaped individual interview (about an hour) all over the telephone. Any information you provide will be strictly confidential; no identifying information will be disclosed. Our research lab is not affiliated with any police service. As a thank-you for your time, you will be given a $20 e-gift card.
If you would like more information about the study or to participate in this study, please contact our research team at rehablabUNB@gmail.com.
This study is on file with the Research Ethics Board of the University of New Brunswick (File number 2017-131.)
Julie breaks down some of our research: Chronic pain and sex in dating relationships
Spreading the word: Partnering with Uber-blogger Julie Ryan helps get research info into the hands of persons with pain!
Knowledge translation is a concept familiar to all researchers, especially those working in health-related fields. Historically, researchers have often struggled to bridge the gap between academic publishing and actually getting the knowledge gained from research into the hands of those who can benefit from it directly in an accessible way. Anyone who has ever attempted to read an academic journal article can attest to the fact that sometimes these articles assume you have substantial background knowledge. These articles can be fairly intimidating and difficult to decipher for the average person without a doctorate degree.
One way we're trying to 'spread the word' about our research findings is by sharing our publications and presentations from academic conferences with Julie Ryan, a well-established blogger with a lot of knowledge and know-how in the chronic pain community. Below is a direct link to her site (Counting My Spoons), and a link to her latest blog that incorporated some of the lab's research on acceptance. Given her interest in research and skills at making academic work more accessible, she's worth a look!
Rehab Lab going to Canadian Sex Research Forum- people with chronic pain are an important part of the discussion!
Congratulations to Kendra, Laurel, and Lyndsay who will be presenting research exploring how sex and intimacy affect persons' with pain's willingness to pursue relationships, and how sex is discussed online via electronic support groups at this year's Canadian Sex Research Forum in Quebec City. Given that one in five Canadians is affected by chronic pain, we're really excited to put some emphasis on the needs and experiences of persons with pain in this context! We're also excited (and a little bashful) to see what's happening in the world of sex research. Look out Canadian Sex Researchers, here we come!
Everyone has encountered a particularly stressful time in their life when 'overwhelmed' seems to be a bit too gentle to describe the experience. Recently, this humble student was reminded that 'performing' during these periods of high stress isn't something only athletes and pop stars experience. Performing is something we all do to some degree, including persons with pain who often try to hide their struggle (e.g., stressing when seeing a new doctor, struggling with exercise). Although I struggled in my moment of frustration and misery to grasp the relevance of a wise man's words about coaches and athletes 'leaning in' to distress, I later found this reference to be super relevant, fairly comforting and perhaps even a little empowering.
Encouragement to 'lean in' was actually tremendously helpful I think because it didn't invalidate or minimize the fear and misery I was feeling. Instead, 'lean in' conveyed empathy (this really is stressful/painful for you and failure will hurt) while encouraging me to invest my energy to face the challenge rather than in fighting/avoiding my fear and frustration (and ultimately my own sense of vulnerability). Leaning into fears makes us a little more comfortable with those strong feelings and a bit more accepting of being a flawed, normal human. Regardless of whether pain is a part of your life or not, practicing 'leaning in' is something we can all benefit from :)
Click the picture below to learn more about 'leaning in'
Lab Director Dr. Diane LaChapelle wins prestigious 2016 Canadian Council of Professional Psychology Programs Award for Excellence in Professional Training!
-Lyndsay Crump (Ph.D. student in clinical program)
Diane wears many hats within our department here at UNB. New students typically encounter her 'evidence-based adult assessment' course as their first foray into graduate level courses, and later finish their coursework with her 'evidence-based practice' capstone course before writing their comprehensive exam. Diane's organization,expertise, and willingness to donate time and energy to making sure we understand the material in her role as teacher is something we really appreciate. Besides her busy teaching schedule and supervision (we undergrad and graduate students can suck up a lot of her time), Diane also serves as our department's Director of Clinical Training.This administrative role comes with a lot of responsibility and requires a lot of time and dedication behind the scenes that we students often forget to thank her for. Essentially, Diane makes sure we all continue to progress through our program, deals with individual bumps that come up along the ride, makes sure the program stays current with evidence-based practice (and incorporates the needs and values of students), and in essence strives to prepare us to be great candidates for internship (our match rate here in excellent).
This past year, the graduate students of the clinical psychology doctoral program secretly nominated Diane (with the full support of the faculty) for the Canadian Council of Professional Psychology Program's Award for Excellence in Professional Training (Academic). Diane's extraordinary efforts and commitment to keeping UNB's clinical program among the best in the country does not go unnoticed by our students and faculty, so we were thrilled to learn the CCPPP also recognizes how exceptional she is!
A massive congratulations to Dr. Diane LaChapelle for this very well-deserved recognition!
For further information on chronic pain: