Traumatic news: Five ideas to help children cope with the pandemic

Written by: Lianna Champ | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

The pandemic and the 24/7 news and media coverage has the potential to be traumatic for children, especially those of primary school age. Lianna Champ, an expert in grief and trauma counselling, offers five ways to help children cope


When disaster strikes, our reactions and behaviours directly affect how those in our care receive the news and therefore react themselves. This is especially true during this time of global pandemic.

Teachers have a responsibility to be a fount of care, wisdom and information in a calm, structured and all-inclusive environment and to be consistent in this regardless of our own personal opinions. Children learn their coping mechanisms from the adults around them – at home and at school.

It is natural to want to protect children from the harsh realities of life. Each child is an individual and the way they access, receive and assimilate information will vary.

All children will very likely be aware of coronavirus through the constant mention across all media. They are also going through massive changes to their usual routines as well as seeing the disruption of the routines of their friends and family. And household conversations around the world are undoubtedly dominated by the virus.

As such, I want to offer five approaches for primary schools to use which will help your pupils to better cope during the Covid pandemic – good communication is the key and this means being honest too.


Idea one: Small groups

Break your class into small groups. Have a discussion with each group and ask what they already know about the coronavirus. Allow them to have their own perceptions and do not interrupt when each child is speaking. Children need to be heard and if they feel listened to it can give them emotional confidence.

Make notes while they are speaking so you can cover everything that comes up and can address all their concerns and fears, endorsing the things they have right.


Idea two: Don’t minimise

Don’t try to distract them and minimise the enormity of the pandemic in an attempt to try and make them “forget”. They won’t. This is an opportunity to give them correct information and reduce any panic. Knowledge is power. They may have been told something or heard adults in conversation and may be worrying unnecessarily. Always answer any questions with total honesty. Let them know that it is okay if they are scared or feel sad about what is happening.

Don’t try and change how they feel. All children, whatever their age need to be able to have their own reactions without being made to feel that there is something wrong with them. Be inclusive and let children know that whatever they are feeling is right for them and allow them to express and work through their emotions without having to hide them. Let their reactions be instinctive. If you don’t know an answer, be honest about that too and look for the answer together by visiting official coronavirus websites.

The way we teach children how to cope with major change in childhood sets a pattern for the rest of their lives. We must teach them to embrace all life experiences and to process their emotional responses – good, bad, happy or sad – as they arise. Each of these emotions need expression.


Idea three: Hygiene and healthy habits

Keep reinforcing the fact that being clean and washing their hands regularly can help stop the virus spreading to other people. Also having lots of sleep, eating well and exercising can help to keep them strong and healthy.

This is a good opportunity to teach them that they have to take some responsibility for themselves and their care, to really think about the foods they are eating – are there enough vitamins, protein etc? This will give them some semblance of control and give them a project too.


Idea four: Tackling anxiety

To help reduce their anxiety about the pandemic, explain how the NHS, doctors and all key workers are still working and doing everything they can to keep people safe and that the scientists are working hard with the vaccine. Explain to them that death from the virus is still rare, despite what they might hear, and let them know how so many more people survive than die.

The main thing is to create a sense of security and explain that most people who get the virus feel like they have flu and do recover. If someone already has an illness or an underlying condition that no-one knows about, their body may not be able to recover and they may die.

Introduce the idea of saying all the important things to each other and explain that we can’t always choose how or when we die, we can only make sure that we all know how important we are to each other and that we have put our love into words.

Encourage them to build into their daily routine video calls with their grandparents and other relatives to help reduce feelings of isolation. Be open and approachable. Let them know that they can come to you with any questions or fears they may have.


Idea five: The media

Talk about how the media can influence our thoughts. Repeated reporting of a trauma can make it feel as if it is going to overwhelm us. It is good to have discussions about other things that are happening too, so that the coronavirus does not overshadow everything.

The internet and the speed at which news travels has made the world feel like a very small place indeed. Keep the scale of reality – the world population at this date is approximately 7.6 billion. Yes, we see the disasters but we can also see many good and great things happening. Everything needs a balance.


Conclusion

By accepting and experiencing all life events as they occur, focusing on the good which so often accompanies disaster – a sense of community; expressions of love; caring actions – we can teach our children to live fully and meaningfully, processing emotional events practically as they arise. We must also balance the scales – without the threats out there, there would be no value to life or thought of personal safety.

Let them know that it is normal and natural to feel stressed sometimes. Teach them to accept that as okay. Keep an eagle eye out for any changes in their behaviour so that you can step in if needed.

  • Lianna Champ has more than 40 years’ experience in grief and trauma counselling and is author of the practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ (Red Door Publishing, 2018: http://bit.ly/3iKibaV


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