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Coping with Coronavirus: Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Margaret Paccione, PhD is the director of clinical innovation at Bradley Hospital and has extensive experience with trauma patients and managing trauma-related service environments. We have adapted this article from one that she wrote for the Lifespan Living newsletter.

Our world has changed drastically from what we knew as “normal.”  The coronavirus disease 2019, COVID-19 in short form, has created a new normal for many of us these days. We all feel the impact of the pandemic, but for parents and caregivers it can be even more difficult.

In the past weeks, we’ve learned new terms like social distancing, self-quarantine, and flattening the curve as ways to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Schools are closed in numerous regions presenting daycare issues for many, and a new homeschooling environment is becoming the norm. Others may be facing different work arrangements, or no work at all. Some may have been in contact with a person who tested positive for the virus and are now refraining from any contact with others for two weeks or longer.

First, parents and other caregivers are facing their own anxiety in this rapidly changing situation. Parents know that the single most important factor in how your child reacts is how you handle these challenging times. As you have these difficult conversations with your child, it is not only what you say, but how you say it.  Stay calm, reassuring, and age-appropriately honest with them about the disease and the new normal that it has created.

Tips for families

It is natural for parents to be stressed and uncertain about the future. Here are some tips to help support families during this crisis.

Routines. Having a routine is good for you. Even if work and school schedules have changed, it doesn’t mean your day can’t have a sense of normalcy to it. Get up at the same time in the mornings and get ready for your day as you normally would. Create a schedule for the family of school or work time.  You may want to include chores, homework, play activities, screen time, and bedtime. Consider adding some family game time or family exercise. A well-paced and thoughtful routine can be reassuring and comforting to children at any age.

Be informed. Be sure to stay up to date about the latest on the outbreak, as well as additional recommendations from local public health authorities. Websites like the Rhode Island Department of Health and the CDC are excellent sources.

Stay connected. Physical distancing is crucial right now in order to reduce the spread. But that doesn’t mean we need to lose contact with family and friends. We are so fortunate that we live in such a connected world. Technology affords us a way to contact educators, classmates, and colleagues. Remember, your children likely miss their school peers; friends and neighbors are just a phone call or social media post away. This may be a time to relax family limits on phone and screen time, maybe just a little!

Limit exposure. While technology gives us a way to stay connected, it can also be overwhelming. Be sure you minimize your exposure to media outlets and avoid sites that may promote fear or panic. Some websites are notorious for providing false or distorted information. Remind your child that everything they see on television or social media may not be the truth or the whole truth.

Keep talking. Your children will naturally have questions, and by staying up to date on the information, you can keep open lines of communication and answer their questions frankly and honestly as appropriate for their age level. 

Consider contributing to the community. Many find that the best way to feel better themselves is to focus on the needs of others. As a family, you may want to discuss ways that you or your child can contribute to the community. For example, children may want to send notes of support to their peers or thanks to first responders or healthcare personnel.

Find support. Remember, these are trying times and we all need to stay aware of our own physical and mental health. Stay close to personal sources of strength such as loved ones, family traditions, and beliefs.

Signs you need additional support

Here are some signs that may indicate that it is time for you to reach out for additional support for yourself or a loved one.

  • Expressing excessive anger, anxiety, worry, or sadness
  • Significant changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Hyper-vigilance to one's health or body
  • Feeling helpless
  • Difficulty concentrating or attending
  • Talking about or hurting self or others

Ask for help. Help is only a phone call away.

  • For support for a child or adolescent Rhode Island resident, contact your primary care provider (PCP) or Kids' Link RI emotional crisis hotline at 1-855-543-5465.
  • For adult Rhode Island residents, contact your PCP or BH Link at bhlink.org or (401) 414-LINK (5465).
  • For additional resources, you can speak to a trained counselor at SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline at 1-800-985-5990 or by texting TalkWithUS to 66746. 

Note from BCBSRI: To find a provider or receive ongoing support, BCBSRI members can call the 24-hour BCBSRI Behavioral Health Line at 1-800-274-2958. (In an emergency situation, always call 911.) You’ll talk with a mental health and substance use disorder professional who will help you find the care you need, provide education and support, and coordinate your care with different healthcare professionals. This service is offered in collaboration with Beacon Health Options, at no extra cost through your plan.

More resources for parents and caregivers are available at the following websites:

We understand that these are trying and uncertain times, but together, we will all get through this.