By Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT, County of Santa Barbara, Department of Public Health
Children have been cooped up for weeks with no in-person school, sports or play dates. Not being able to socialize with their friends may leave kids feeling depressed, hopeless anxious and angry.
Now, as we begin to reopen communities and facilities, it may be hard to get children and especially teens to take safety protocols seriously, but it is vital that they do. How we talk to our kids is as important as what we say to them. To help you and your kids navigate their emotions and new ways of living, here are 7 tips you may find useful:
- Hear your child out. Try to understand where your children are coming from with any issues they may have, such as feeling that wearing a face mask makes them look stupid or feeling like they just have to meet up with their friends at the park. Try to make something work for them and for you. Perhaps you can let them choose or decorate their own mask to wear. As for meet ups, offer your OK if they agree to wear their mask and bring along hand sanitizer. Most importantly, let them express their feelings about missing friends and activities.
- Empathize and Validate! It’s probably been awhile since you were a teenager, but you may recall, for teens, friends are their life. Not being able to hang out with their friends, enjoy activities together and meet in person can feel devastating. As a parent, work to get a clear sense of what your kids want and need right now. Listen and empathize with them. Hey, it’s been hard on you too, and you can share that with them! You can develop rules and guidelines for your kids to venture out, while at the same time, giving them space to express themselves, be heard and be validated by you.
- Create perspective. Three months of quarantine and physical distancing can feel like forever to kids (and adults too). Now would be a good time to remind your kids that this will not go on forever, but it is important that we all adhere to safety precautions so that we remain safe.
- Stick to the facts. This generation of kids has access to more information than ever before. As a parent, it is important that we help them understand what they need to know and talk to them about what they are reading and hearing. Also, resist the urge to scare your children into complying with new safety precautions; rather encourage compliance by affirming them, such as by saying, “I have faith in your ability to follow through with these orders right now.”
- Use trusted information sources. With so much information available, it can be difficult to know what is accurate. Stick to trusted sources of information such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and our local Department of Public Health for the County of Santa Barbara. These are the places where you will be able to obtain accurate and timely information about the coronavirus and up-to-date health orders.
- Personalize situations for your kids. If you ask your child if they know of anyone that has the coronavirus, the answer will likely be no, so this disease can seem abstract to kids. Gently remind your children that the coronavirus is dangerous to the elderly, and that what we all do now can have a big impact down the road. If we all follow safety precautions now, we can help prevent future lockdowns.
- Help connect their independence with being safe. Children and teens want and deserve their freedom back (don’t we all!) If we can help them understand that adhering to safety precautions, like wearing your face mask (correctly) and using hand sanitizer, will enable them to venture out, kids are more likely to follow these safety protocols.
As parents, we set the tone in the household. It is important that we try to stay positive and communicate consistent messages to our kids such as adhering to safety protocols now, and that a brighter future lies ahead. Remember to keep lines of communication open between you and your kids; reassure them, keep them informed and connected.
For more information about how you can prevent getting and spreading the coronavirus and what steps the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department is taking to protect our communities, please visit: https://publichealthsbc.org/.
Suzanne Grimmesey, MFT, is the County of Santa Barbara’s Chief Quality Care and Strategy Officer and is responsible for leadership of Quality Care and Strategy Management within the Department of Behavioral Wellness.