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Helping your children deal with the crisis

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When one young middle schooler first heard about the Covid-19 crisis, she was terrified for her grandmother.

What if she caught the virus at school or the grocery store and made her grandmother sick?

She decided the best way to deal with the situation was to completely avoid her grandmother, which was not easy, considering her grandmother lived with her.

Worried, her parents took her to clinical psychologist Renée Simons, who is seeing more and more young patients struggling with anxiety and depression because of Covid-19.

“Younger children aren't worried much about it,” said Dr Simons, who works out of Edgewood Paediatrics.

“But a lot of middle schoolers and up are worried, not so much for themselves, but for their parents and grandparents.”

She helped this particular middle schooler by giving her information.

“I explained to her what Covid-19 is and how it impacts children and what she can do to prevent herself from getting it,” Dr Simons said.

She added that it was easy for anyone, of any age, to become anxious during this crisis.

“A lot of what is happening right now is out of the control of both the child and the parent,” she said.

“It is just a matter of figuring out what little bit is in your control. What can you do to minimise risk and then hope for the best?”

She said it was important to explain what Covid-19 is, but children did not need every gory detail — the number of people who have it, the number of deaths and so forth.

Her son, Noah, for example, is barely 2, and completely unaware of what is going on.

“He's with us now 24/7, and that is intense,” Dr Simons laughed.

“He likes to ride his little scooter. It's one of those that we have to push. He has to stay in the yard now, but he doesn't like riding on the grass. He wants to ride on the concrete outside the yard.”

She said older children were aware of what was going on as a result of social media, the internet and television. In this case, she thinks a basic understanding is ideal.

“They don't need every single update and how many cases we have,” she said.

“They don't need to hear how many have been cured and who is hospitalised.

“They need a basic understanding of what it is, how it is transmitted, and what we can do to keep loved ones safe.”

Older children may also need information on what will happen to the events they had been looking forward to, sports day, travel, birthday parties.

“Let them know what the plan is in place. Whether the event was cancelled or postponed, ” she said.

“A lot of children are frustrated and angry that some things they were looking forward to had to be cancelled. My friend's son's birthday [party] was called off and he is really upset. Reinforce why it is necessary and make plans for future.”

The forced isolation of lockdown is also getting to a lot of youngsters, and their parents.

“I worry about the social consequences of the lockdown,” said mother Ana Cera. “I think we are basically social creatures. We're meant to be with other people.”

She has a daughter, Laura, 12, and a son, Lourenco, 7.

Ms Cera said that while it was nice that her family were all together during this crisis, everyone needed space.

“Sometimes we find ourselves a little bit upset, dealing with our personal space,” she said.

“I try to talk with them and give them their own space.”

She has also noticed the children are getting a lot more screen time than they normally would. She copes by giving the children chores to do. They have to make their beds and help with other household tasks.

She gave Lourenco a walkie-talkie so that he can have some time to himself in the backyard.

“He likes to be outside,” she said. “We live in a compound so he can't go very far. Still, sometimes I need to know where he is.”

Dr Simons said structure and clearly outlined expectations could be calming to children and teens. “They thrive on routine,” she said.

Warning signs that children might be struggling with anxiety or depression include changes in sleep routines, loss of appetite, irritability and aggression.

“In Bermuda, there are a lot of resources being offered,” Dr Simons said. “Psychologists are still working remotely.”

If parents were worried about their children's mental health, Dr Simons recommended reaching out to psychologists, mental health professionals or paediatricians.

Dr Simons said it was normal for both children and adults to be anxious and uncomfortable at this time.

“This is normal because this is a highly unpredictable time,” she said.

“And it's OK for parents to talk to their children and process their feelings with them even though they might not have all the answers.

“If you feel like your child is becoming too anxious or wants to talk about worries 24/7, and is checking every news and twitter update it might be beneficial to provide a worry time.

“This is when you set time aside to discuss worries.

“Encourage them to write their worries down and then, during your worry time, you talk about it.

“That is so they don't get caught into the viscous cycle of anxiety.”

For helpful webinars and tips on this topic try and Dr Simons welcomes calls from concerned parents at 295-8000

Stressful times: clinical psychologist Renée Simons with her son, Noah. She is seeing more young patients struggling with anxiety because of Covid-19 (Photograph supplied)
Lourenco Cera gets a little time to himself in the backyard, while keeping in touch with his mother by walkie-talkie (Photograph supplied)

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Published April 13, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated April 13, 2020 at 8:05 am)

Helping your children deal with the crisis

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