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Helping children deal with fear

By Nathan Rice

I turned on the radio as I entered my car to drive home from another hectic day at work. I was surprised when I heard that the college basketball tournaments had been canceled. My office had one of its busiest weeks in its history, so I hadn’t paid too much attention to the world outside of my business.

I started to pay attention to the news and watched the panic over the coronavirus spread. It wasn’t long before everything was canceled and store shelves were empty. The next alert came when the governor ordered schools to be closed for at least two weeks.

I flipped through social media in an attempt to get the overall feeling of people. Some people didn’t buy into the hype, but others were genuinely scared. Children have that same range of reactions. Some kids are simply thrilled to get out of school for a few weeks, while others are scared because of the news about the virus. We need to do what we can to help children who are scared due to recent events.

First, we should pay close attention to the actions, attitudes and demeanors of our children. They may not admit that they are afraid, if they want to appear brave or if they feel ashamed to admit they are scared. Watch their demeanor for signs they are concerned.

Next, be sure that you do not dismiss or escalate their fears. Ask them how they are feeling and let them share. Adults who feel the coronavirus is overhyped may dismiss children’s fear by saying that it’s just overhyped news. Others who feel the virus will bring destruction may escalate a child’s fear by projecting his or her fear onto the child.

Share with children what is known about the situation in a straightforward and honest way. Adjust the discussion to the child’s age, maturity level and ability to understand, but be sure you do not dismiss or escalate their fears.

In the same vein, be sure that you do not make promises you cannot keep. You may want to say, “I’ll never let anything happen to you,” or “I’ll be fine,” but you cannot promise these things. Instead, say things like, “I’ll do all I can to keep you safe,” and, “I’ll do all I can to always be there for you.” These are promises you can keep.

Next, let children take steps themselves to prepare for the situation. Doing things can help children feel that they are better prepared and help ease their concerns. Let them clean their toys, wipe down their bookbag, and assist in any steps you may be taking.

Children can also benefit when a sense of normalcy is continued. This two-week break is a wonderful surprise for children not concerned about the coronavirus. For those who are frightened, however, every day without school is a reminder that something is wrong. Keep a regular schedule as much as possible. Wake up around the same time, work on a little homework together, and go to bed as if it were a regular school day. Treat this time as you would any other break from school.

You can add in some fun activities to your regular schedule. For example, bake some cookies together or make a craft. Things like this allow you to talk with your child while doing something fun together.

Most importantly, be sure to look into the word of God with your child. Explain how we know that sin brought bad stuff into our world. This means that things are not perfect. Bad stuff happens, but God has promised never to leave us. God loves us, and He asks us to trust Him even when things are scary.

Be careful that you don’t make up promises from Scripture that don’t exist. We cannot say, “God won’t let anything happen to us.” Instead, tell them that Jesus said we will all have trouble in this world, but that He is more powerful than anything and everyone. Some things can be scary, but God is still in charge, and He will never leave us.

Lastly, do not hesitate to reach out to others for assistance. You may ask someone you and your child trusts to share his or her thoughts. There are times when hearing things from someone other than a parent can make a big difference. Many are willing to help.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.