This is a challenging time for many in our community as the concerns about the COVID-19 situation have continued to escalate. This week we have briefed all staff, communicated with all parents and also met with all Senior School students to explain the School’s planning and response.
Our goal in these communications is to be clear and helpful and to reduce rumour and misinformation.
It is also apparent that a number of students are feeling anxious because of the heightened focus on this issue in the wider media and in discussions with families.
I thought that it would be useful to share some ideas around how to reduce students’ worries regarding the situation.
The National Association of School Psychologists from the USA writes that: “acknowledging some level of concern, without panicking, is appropriate and can result in taking actions that reduce the risk of illness. Helping children cope with anxiety requires providing accurate prevention information and facts without causing undue alarm.”
The Association provides useful suggestions on how to best achieve this goal. Some of their most useful tips are:
Remain calm and reassuring
• Children will react to and follow your verbal and nonverbal reactions.
• What you say and do about COVID-19, current prevention efforts, and related events can either increase or decrease your children’s anxiety.
• If true, emphasise to your children that they and your family are fine.
• Remind them that you and the adults at their school are there to keep them safe and healthy.
• Let your children talk about their feelings and help reframe their concerns into the appropriate perspective.
Monitor television viewing and social media
• Limit television viewing or access to information on the Internet and through social media. Try to avoid watching or listening to information that might be upsetting when your children are present.
• Speak to your child about how many stories about COVID-19 on the Internet may be based on rumours and inaccurate information.
• Talk to your child about factual information of this disease—this can help reduce anxiety.
• Constantly watching updates on the status of COVID-19 can increase anxiety—avoid this.
• Be aware that developmentally inappropriate information (i.e., information designed for adults) can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children.
Be honest and accurate
• In the absence of factual information, children often imagine situations far worse than reality.
• Don’t ignore their concerns, but rather explain that at the present moment very few people in this country are sick with COVID-19.
• Children can be told this disease is thought to be spread between people who are in close contact with one another—when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
The message here is that our children benefit from calm, proactive and non-alarmist communication. Being sensitive to their feelings and concerns allows us to carefully adjust our discussions to assist them to feel more in control.
The Association continues to state: “You know your children best. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. However, don’t avoid giving them the information that health experts identify as critical to ensuring your children’s health. Be patient; children and youth do not always talk about their concerns readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. It is very typical for younger children to ask a few questions, return to playing, then come back to ask more questions.”
In my experience, one of the best ways to help a worried child is to empower them by enlisting their help. In this case we can encourage our students to help by practising excellent hygiene and regularly washing their hands, coughing and sneezing into elbows and communicating about any concerns.
In times of challenge our community has a great ability to come together. I take comfort in knowing that we will do our utmost to ensure the safety of students and staff and continue to provide first class holistic educational experiences.