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Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Lankard: In stressful times, talk to kids about what they can do

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“Are we all going to die?” a teenager asked her Mom. It is a question many are thinking.

In the midst of the spreading coronavirus, adults must take care of themselves and also be prepared to help the children. Children have no experience through which to filter what is happening. They will sense our concern and fear and have limited skills for coping.

How adults can help: Be a model of how to cope. Admit your feelings, but don’t let fear immobilize you. Listen to your child express their feelings, remind them they are safe in your home and encourage them to choose something that makes them feel better, such as sleeping with a night light or a favorite stuffed animal. Inform them what the medical community, scientists and people in government are doing to protect us. Talk about what you are doing in your home to keep everyone safe. Practice frequent hand washing and sanitizing. Talk about the reasons for not touching eyes, nose, mouths. Limit the amount of time the family talks about the virus and limit coverage on television. Stick to familiar daily routines. Stay on schedule with bed time, meal time, etc.

Watch for signs of increased stress in children: extreme vigilance, depression, lethargy, disinterest in normal activities, discipline problems, high anxiety states, fearful, even in safe situations. Be available for hugs and talks and tears and lots of holding and cuddling while watching favorite movies. If teenagers don’t want to cuddle, congregate in the same room as often as possible. Limit internet time where they may get frightening or false information.

Brainstorm about they can do to help someone else. Write a note of thanks to their doctors and nurses. Face Time with grandparents or other relatives and friends. Do some art work to send to someone special, letting them know you are thinking about them. If your family is religious, say a prayer.

Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Contact her at clankard@cox.net.

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