Families, communities, and nations are stronger when parents and children can discuss concerns openly and honestly. Children and teens know that their world has been turned upside down with COVID-19. Many of them see classmates in Zoom classes only or had their sports teams cancelled. Most of them can no longer play with friends in the neighborhood unless it is outside. It is only natural for children and teens to feel stress just as adults do.
Experts say that parents should not panic if they hear children talking about “Covid” or “Rona” in their playtime talk.
“Adults process stress verbally,” Laine Young-Walker, the chair of psychiatry at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, told The Washington Post. “They’re able to talk to their loved ones about their fears and concerns. But young children don’t have that ability so you’re more likely to see a behavioral response to stress or to see the stressful or traumatic event coming into their play.”
Children may be more irritable, have trouble sleeping, or change toileting habits. They may want to talk with their parents about it, or they may benefit from visiting a professional counselor. Others may work out their stress by mixing it right into their play.
“While children may exhibit age-appropriate speech and language skills, they may require time and guidance to nurture their emotional intelligence or ability to monitor their own emotions and link these to preceding situations and resulting behaviors,” said Leela R. Magavi, regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, California’s largest outpatient mental health organization, told The Washington Post. “Consequently, rather than directly speaking with their parents about sadness, anxiety and anger due to COVID-19, children may express their feelings by using their trusted toys.”
Psychologists say that mixing COVID-19 with playtime is normal. It helps children work through the stress and tension caused by all the changes.
“Play helps modulate their mood,” Sandra Russ, Ph.D., a professor and psychologist at Case Western University, told The New York Times. “They can express these things in little bits in ways that re manageable for them.”
Stories can be an important part of this, Russ said.
“They integrate it, including their fears, and build a story around it,” she said. “That narrative is really important.”
The bottom line is that children are not just miniature adults. They have different ways of processing stress. One of the ways for children to deal with all the changes of COVID-19 is to mix it into their playtime talk with their toys. Parents should not panic when they hear their little children discussing the terrible disease that has changed life for most of us. Families, communities, and nations can come out of this pandemic with healthier children if we allow them to deal with it in their own way.