Now that things are starting to open up, how can we help our kids if they are still afraid of COVID-19? I made an appointment for my 12-year-old daughter to go to the dentist and she is so scared to go.
As relieved as we may be that the stay-at-home orders are being lifted across the country, it can be very difficult for kids to understand why we can go out now when we couldn’t before.
As with most fear, saying, “You have nothing to be afraid of!” or “Don’t worry!” never works. You need to normalize the fear and empathize with her instead. Try something like, “I can completely understand why you’d be worried about that. Everyone feels worried about something as serious as COVID-19. This is a difficult thing we’re all dealing with.” Knowing that we are not alone in our fears, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling nervous, helps to make fear more manageable.
I’d ask her what she knows about the coronavirus and correct any misinformation. It could be she thinks it is more deadly than it actually is.
You can also help her understand why we needed to stay home. It wasn’t so that no one would get the virus at all, but so we didn’t all get it at once and overwhelm our health care system. It isn’t feasible for us to all stay home indefinitely, so our health experts made a plan that would allow us to slowly start going out again even though the virus is still around.
Inform her of all the strategies being put in place to lower her risk of contracting the virus, and if she does, to reduce the chances that she could pass it on to someone else. We may be going out again, but we are doing so with great attention being paid to risk reduction.
Now that some stay-at-home orders are being lifted, our strategy is to try to resume at least some of our activity outside the house while reducing our chances of getting the virus and protecting those who are at greater risk. Remind her (or inform her) that we are still practising physical distancing in public and wearing masks. We are washing our hands frequently. We are not doing large gatherings.
Specifically, in your situation, your dentist has put measures into place to make virus transmission very unlikely. You can explain to your child that there will be physical-distancing protocols in place for everyone in the office, that they will be checking temperatures and people will be wearing masks. The dentist and hygienist will be wearing personal protective equipment. Everything that can be done to make it safe for her and the people who work there has been done.
While of course we want to educate and reassure your daughter, it’s crucial to be able to help her go on with life with some uncertainty. There is a risk to going out of the house with coronavirus still circulating, and no cure and no vaccine. We need to balance the risk with our need to live our lives (including going to the dentist!).
You can tell her that, along with taking all possible precautions against getting sick, “Whatever happens, sweetheart, we can handle it.” It might not be easy or what we want, but it’s necessary and resilience-building to remind ourselves that we can do hard things.
Sarah Rosensweet is a parenting coach who lives in Toronto with her husband and three children, ages 13, 16 and 19. Do you have a parenting question? Send your dilemmas to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.
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