How to talk about traumatic events like COVID-19
Dr. Kenneth McCann, DO FAAP, One Hundred Hands
During and after a traumatic experience – like the COVID-19 pandemic – it is normal for kids and teens to experience different or stronger emotions.
"It's good to encourage your children to express their feelings and letting them know its OK to be upset. It's OK to be sad. It's OK to cry," said Dr. Kenneth McCann, DO FAAP, pediatrician and health care consultant.
Talking about trauma with your children can be difficult. Dr. McCann has put together some tips to help guide parents through these tough conversations:
Plan ahead for your conversation:
You know your child best, so consider when your child is usually most comfortable talking. Maybe that's at the dinner table, while on a family walk or driving in the car. Also consider when you will able to listen and not be distracted with work or household chores. "Listening is a gift we give one another," said Dr. McCann.
"If you really want your child to express their feelings, open up several paths for them to be able to express how they feel," said Dr. McCann. Besides talking, children may also choose to express themselves through writing, drawing, singing or another creative outlet. Let them know its OK to express their feelings however they choose.
Other tips for the conversation:
- Pay attention to your child's body language.
- Ask clarifying questions but try not to interrupt.
- Be thankful that your child is opening up to you.
RELATED: Why self-care is important during COVID-19
Types of trauma children may be experiencing right now:
Isolation: For teens, isolation is especially difficult. Peer relationships and traditional milestones (such as prom or graduation) are part of their developmental process. Be sensitive when children express grief about missing their friends or cancelled events.
- Tip: Work with your children to set future plans, even if it is a virtual experience. Give your children things to look forward to.
Media: Graphic imagery on TV or social media can be traumatic for kids and teens. Talking to children about what they may hear or see is important. Consider watching the news (age appropriate) with your children and discussing what you're seeing together.
- Tip: Be proactive by giving your children access to safe information and resources related to COVID-19.
Anxiety: Children whose parents are essential workers may have additional fears that their loved ones may get sick. Kids and teens may even have fears about a family member dying due to COVID-19. Be re-assuring, but truthful about the situation.
- Tip: Like Mr. Rogers said: "Find the helpers." Focus on what the whole family is doing to stay healthy or find ways to safely give back to the community.
RELATED: How routines can help your family cope with COVID-19
Signs your child may be experiencing trauma:
- Sleep disorders
- Complaining of pain
- Behavioral problems
- Emotional distress
If you recognize these symptoms in your child, reach out to your primary care provider or a mental health professional for help.
RELATED: How to identify and cope with stress during COVID-19
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Kenneth McCann, DO FAAP, is a child abuse pediatrician and founder of One Hundred Hands, an organization that provides information, education and inspiration to assist health systems create trauma-informed care.
This blog post was adapted from a discussion filmed on Facebook Live on April 27, 2020, as part of a "Mental Health Monday" series presented by the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative, Make It OK and Please Pass the Love.
Watch a full replay of Dr. McCann's discussion at the top of this blog post.