By Amanda Suplee, PhD & Hailey Nelson, MD, FAAP
News of a positive COVID-19 test can be alarming for both kids and parents. The fear and uncertainty, paired with the frustration of changing plans and routines, can cause heightened emotions for the whole family. But it can be especially distressing for children.
Here are some tips to help you talk about a positive COVID-19 test with your child and develop strategies to manage stress.
Start the conversation
Stay calm, especially when giving information to your child. To "set the thermostat" of a conversation, choose a location where you both feel comfortable, safe and calm. Keep your tone of voice and body language relaxed, and the discussion informative and reassuring. Children react to their environment and if you are calm, they will be more likely to stay calm.
Be honest, and give them an opportunity to ask questions. Let your child ask questions and provide honest answers that are appropriate for their age and developmental stage. A positive COVID-19 test will mean that their daily routine is about to change, so they may have a lot of questions.
Your child may ask, "Why can't I go to school today?" for example. You might answer, "We have to take a break from seeing others for a little while so we can all stay healthy. Your doctor will help us understand when it's okay for us to go to school again."
Provide reassurance. Remind them that you and their caregivers will be there to take care of them, and that their pediatrician is always just a phone call away. Share with them in words they can understand and appreciate that most children will only experience a mild, cold-like illness, or may not feel sick at all.
Tell your child what happens next. Be clear about the change in routine they can expect going forward for a while. Letting your child know what to expect helps to ease anxiety related to uncertainty. Explain to them what they will need to do to help keep other family members healthy, including wearing a mask, isolating in a different area of the home whenever possible and staying home or avoiding close contact with others for a while.
Address concerns with solution-focused talks. In addition to
health concerns, older kids may worry about missed schoolwork. Discuss how you and they can reach out to teachers for assignments and ask for help prioritizing make-up work.
Many kids are also concerned about exposing others to COVID-19. They may be especially worried about family members who have medical conditions or medications that weaken the immune system, or younger siblings who are not yet
eligible for COVID-19 vaccines. Remind them that there are proven actions we can take to limit the spread of COVID-19, such as physical distancing,
face masks and hand washing.
You can also use solution-focused talks if your child is upset about missing out on social events while they isolate. Mention ways to stay connected such as video calls, group video games, or making art projects to give to friends. Remind them that they'll be able to see them in person again soon.
Plan fun distractions. Dealing with a COVID-19 infection can make your child feel a loss of control. Give them a chance to make some decisions for themselves, like which book to read or what food they would like to eat. Being able to make even small decisions can help your child cope with illness and give them back a sense of control and certainty.
Keep the conversation going. Encourage your child to tell you how they are feeling, both emotionally and physically. This will help you keep track of symptoms and their level of
stress. Create a safe space for your child to talk about their feelings and be willing to
reach out for professional help if needed. Offering a listening and non-judgmental ear lets your child know they're not alone. This can make a big difference, even if you don't have a solution.
As a parent and caregiver, it is essential to not only help your child cope with the stress they may be feeling, but to acknowledge your own mental and emotional health, too. To help you manage the stress you may experience when dealing with a COVID-19 infection in the home, keep these tips in mind:
Limit time on social media and news. It's easy to get sucked into social media feeds and
breaking headlines discussing current topics. This can not only be stressful, but can also be a source of misinformation. Instead, try to rely on COVID-19 updates directly from a trusted health source.
Take care of yourself! Your child's positive test and the sudden need to alter daily life may make you feel a loss of control, too. Try to eat regular, healthy meals, stay hydrated and get enough rest.
Taking care of your physical health will benefit your mental health at the same time. Let go of tasks that are non-essential and focus on things that you can control. This includes your own self-care, mindfulness, and physical health while you nurture your child 's physical and emotional well-being during this time.
Reach out for support and connection. Stay in touch with your support system with texts, phone calls, or video chat services and don't be afraid to reach out for professional help if needed. When you check in with loved ones, encourage those who are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated as soon as they can. Reach out to your child's pediatrician if you have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine.
Talk about vaccines & other tools
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and
effective; they prevent serious illness and hospitalization in children. Vaccines, along with well-fitting face masks, physical distancing and other
tools we now have, can protect us and everyone around us.
If your child is vaccinated
If your child is not fully vaccinated
As soon as your child is feeling better, and is out of isolation, they
can and should still get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccines and boosters have been shown to decrease severe illness and complications from COVID-19 infections. Prepare for your child's vaccination appointment with this
As you work through helping your child heal from a COVID-19 infection, remember: be kind to yourself and others. Parents often struggle with the news that their child has tested positive for COVID-19. Be patient with yourself and know that you are doing the very best you can to help your child get better.
Talk to your pediatrician if you have questions about your child's symptoms, or if they are getting worse. Your pediatrician can also answer any questions you may have about the COVID-19 vaccine and how it can help protect your child's health.