How to Support Our Kids During Covid-19
California’s Surgeon General, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, joins us remotely to share advice on how to talk to your kids about COVID-19, what all of us can do to help, and how to mitigate stress while stuck at home. “We’re all feeling a lot of stress right now. And I think for adults, we can kind of recognize it and say it. But for kids, oftentimes it doesn’t show up in the same way.”
For information, resources and support on California’s response to COVID-19, please visit https://covid19.ca.gov/
For mental health support:
- To reach a crisis text line, text HOME to 741-741
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. (TTY 1-800-846-8517).
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255)
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): https://www.nami.org/help
- 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
Other important support contact information:
- The National Domestic Violence hotline is 800-799-SAFE (7233)
- The National Sexual Assault hotline is 800-656-HOPE (4673)
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Facilities Locator: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/locator
[00:01] Lemonada Media has a new podcast with healthcare expert Andy Slavitt called In The Bubble, and it covers the global pandemic in a way that provides nonpartisan hope and clarity to the country and world. Andy talks to the White House, to scientists, federal and local leaders and cultural icons each week. And he’s going to use this Wednesday weekly podcast to share what he’s learned, providing you with both trusted information and hope. Guests include folks like Mark Cuban, Tina Fey, governors, mayors and many more. You can even listen with your kids. Help us get it up and running by going to LemonadaMedia.com/inthebubble support us on Patreon and subscribe to In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt wherever you get your podcasts.
[00:46] Hello, my name is Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. I am the surgeon general for California. And you’re listening to Good Kids. I think one thing I would say to parents is that a lot of kids are hearing about Coronavirus on TV, or they’re hearing it on the radio when you’re in the car. Or at you know, they’re hearing about it from others in their lives, either, you know, their friends from school or other places. And so it’s important to talk to kids. And first, just start by asking what they’ve heard about it, and whether they have any questions or fears or anything like that. And then take some time to correct any misinformation, because a lot of the times, you know, kids, they’ll hear one thing and they’ll interpret it in a certain way, and so it’s really good to clarify any misinformation.
[01:41] And then also just use age-appropriate language to communicate the, you know, just honest information to kids. With my 4 year old, we have the conversation and talk about how important it is for us to wash our hands, and how important it is for us to stay home so that we don’t get sick and that we don’t unintentionally carry the virus to somebody else who could get even sicker if they get it. And, you know, with my four year old, he knows that we’re fighting the Coronavirus, so he usually does like a karate chop or a kick in the air or something like that. With my 7 year old as we talk about it, one of the things that’s really helpful is also to recognize that important role that we’ve played. And as kids are staying home, that that’s actually a way of contributing to everyone’s health and well-being.
[02:42] And one thing that we can do also is just express how proud we are of our kids for being part of the solution, and dealing with some of the difficulties and the inconveniences of not being able to do all the things that we could do while we’re dealing with this virus, this pandemic. In my role as surgeon general, one of the things that we really look at is the fact that right now, when scientists are working very hard on a vaccine, we’re looking at clinical trials for various different types of treatment, but that’s still a little bit away. And right now, the most powerful tool that we have for fighting this virus is our behavior. And so when we stay at home with our kids and when our kids are not able to have that birthday party, when they’re not able to be out with their friends, we are the solution right now. We are the most powerful treatment. And so I think it is really important to help kids connect with that sense of purpose, and really realize the power of their actions in helping to protect the most vulnerable. That’s something that feels really important to me.
[04:08] For for those of us who are blessed to be in a family that is safe and have a roof over our heads and all of those other things, the increased family time may be just a window of opportunity to spend more time together. When parents are working from home, which is a challenge, but, you know, we’re getting more time at home with our kids and kids who are doing their schooling from home, there is an opportunity for greater family cohesion and family time. Hopefully people can find some positives in that. But at the same time, it’s really challenging because humans are inherently social beings. And especially for kids, one of the things that’s so important is that play is part of a kid’s job, right? Like, as important it is for us to do our jobs, it’s important for kids to not only be doing their tasks of learning, and their creative tasks that they would be doing at school, but also recognizing that play is one of the tasks that kids also are supposed to be doing as well that’s developmentally appropriate.
[05:14] And so not being able to do that as much, not being able to have as much time with their peers and having peer support and development, all of those things can be challenging for a kid. And that can show up in lots of different ways. I think for some kids it can show up as either boredom or they’re bouncing off the walls, which is what’s happening at my house. But creating an outlet — one of the things that parents can do is really have an outlet to be able to support that. So number one is having that schedule. Even though, you know, kids aren’t getting up and going to school in the morning, still keeping that same routine of waking up at the same time and having the meals at the same time. And then having a daily schedule the way that kids would have at school. But making sure that in that daily schedule there’s time for play. There’s time for creativity, just as there’s time for learning and other scheduled activities. And the other piece that feels really important is trying to support and maintain those peer relationships, whether it is by phone or by Facetime or by Skype or however. Or even writing letters — good, old-fashioned longhand letters to maintain that feeling of connection. Maintaining social connections is really important right now that we’re physically separated. But to maintain a lot of those feelings and social connections is critical.
[09:10] We’re all feeling a lot of stress right now, and I think for adults we can kind of recognize it and say it. But for kids, oftentimes it doesn’t show up in the same way. You know, one of the most common things that we’ll see with kids, is changes in their behavior. So they might either be more irritable or having trouble managing their behavior. They might have more difficulty paying attention or focusing. But they also, for a lot of kids, they may not have any behavioral changes at all. For some kids who are really experiencing stress — this is something that I’ve seen in my clinical practice quite a bit — it may show up as headaches or tummy aches. It may show up as difficulty sleeping or changes in, you know, toileting habits. It may also, in older kids, so teenagers and adolescents, they may be more withdrawn. And teenagers are generally kind of withdrawn anyways. And so it can be harder for parents who are working with teenagers at home — it’s easy to kind of think that, oh, teenagers are pretty self-sufficient, but we kind of have to tease them out a little bit and ask them how they’re doing. Check in about how they’re sleeping, how they’re connecting with their friends, whether they’re feeling worried about anything and really checking in and inquiring. Some of the things that really are shown to make a big difference in reducing the amount of stress hormones that we release — and, you know, we’re all releasing more stress hormones right now because it’s a stressful time. Things like sleep and having those regular healthy sleep patterns. Exercise. So even though we are staying at home to save lives, there’s still lots of ways to get exercise. And it’s really important to be getting 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. And that can be broken up throughout the day.
[11:07] That could be three 20 minute periods. It could be two 30 minute periods. It can be an indoor dance party. It can be busting out that hula hoop. It could be doing something in the yard. Or it could be, you know, a walk around the block, taking the dogs out for a walk, but making sure that we’re maintaining strict social distancing and staying at least six feet away from other people. So we’re not talking about going to the park and doing a pickup game of basketball. We’re talking about walking or jogging around the block or something along those lines.
[11:44] In addition to regular exercise is good nutrition. So during times of stress, the way that our stress hormones work is that they kind of drive us to crave high-sugar, high-fat foods. And so now is the time where we’re reaching more for the potato chips and other things, but really eating nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, lean protein, fish, nuts, all of those things, actually, they have specific nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids that actually help to calm down our stress response, which is really important.
[12:17] And in addition to nutrition, mindfulness, especially for teenagers — that mindfulness app, some folks love Headspace, some folks love Calm. Headspace even has mindfulness practices for little kids. And then finally, for anyone who has had a history of anxiety or mental health concerns, really checking in with your mental health provider, now’s a really good time to do it. Lots of mental health providers are available by phone, through Skype. Much of the mental health profession is transitioning to this telemedicine right now. So reach out, and it’s actually great to reach out sooner rather than later.
[13:02] Our kids, they cue off of us. And especially when we’re at home and we’re in that environment all the time, our kids really pick up on our energy. So as adults, you know, doing those same things — sleep, exercise, nutrition, mindfulness, mental health and healthy relationships. It’s actually just as important that we are doing these self-care tips for ourselves, because one of the things that we know is that if we are not well, it’s really hard for our kids. They pick up off of that and that can affect their health and well-being as well. So it’s really important for us to put on our own oxygen mask first so that we can be there to be available to our kids.
[13:51] One of the things that we’re recognizing is that kids get a lot more from school than just educational instruction. They are able to come in contact with loving, caring adults, and especially for some of our most vulnerable kids or for kids who are in a household where there are challenges or where they’re not always safe, it’s a challenge. But I think it’s also something that we have an opportunity to be proactive in doing something about is making sure that if you’re a teacher or a coach or a music instructor, if you’re a professional in the lives of these kids, now is a fantastic time to reach out if you can. You know that phone call, that text, that Facetime can be absolutely life-saving for these kids.
[14:49] If there’s one thing that I would say as a pediatrician and as the surgeon general of California, I will say for parents, you have permission to give yourselves a break right now. You know, we aren’t trained educational professionals. We are all adjusting to a new situation. And one of the things that’s really important is that there’s the stress and the challenges of the situation itself, of trying to make sure our kids are getting a good education. Most of us, if we’re fortunate enough to be able to work remotely, also trying to deal with, you know, the stresses and deal with our jobs. And so that’s hard enough. Then on top of that, adding judgment around, oh, my God, I’m not doing it right, or I’m not doing a good enough job or, you know, my child had an extra half an hour of screen time. Like that extra level of judgment only adds to our stress. So we can let that go, right? Now’s a good time to go ahead and let that go. And then also to adjust our expectations. So we may have had a certain level of productivity before. And we may be thinking that a certain amount of work is going to get done in our household on a daily basis. But it’s important to kind of reality-test some of those ideas and relax some of those expectations a little bit.
[16:13] If it’s causing more stress to be trying to meet those expectations than to be dealing with the reality that we may not get through absolutely everything that we had hoped to get through. So recognizing that this is temporary, but during this time we may not be as productive as we had hoped. And that’s OK.
[16:38] I think one of the biggest things that I’m taking away from this is just how interconnected we are. That what happens in a market in China can affect all of our well-being, all of our ability to go to school, go to work. Impacting how we’re doing as a society. So I think that a recognition of that interconnection is really important. And then also a recognition that we all have a role to play in caring for each other and keeping each other safe. Right now, the most powerful tool that we have in fighting this virus is the behavior of every person. What our neighbors do, what our friends do with others in our place of work or schools, they impact the health and well-being of our entire community. But on top of that, I think that one of the things that will come out of this is that I think as a society, we’re learning a lot of ways to stay connected. And that actually is one of the things that I’m really excited about is all the ways we’re advancing our ability to stay connected even if we’re physically distant. Because I think that’s the other thing that we’re feeling. I miss seeing my friends and neighbors and colleagues and all of these other folks.
[18:02] And when we’re away from other people, we kind of have a recognition of like, oh, wow, that is something that’s really important in my life. And so that’s something that I hope that we will continue is this value of connectedness. And some of the innovations that are happening right now to help us stay connected, even if we’re physically distant. And wash our hands! Yes. And we’ve got to wash our hands. 20 seconds is a lot longer than you thought it was.
[18:33] So here in California, we have a website, Covid19.ca.gov, and that has all of our state-wide resources on Covid-19. In addition, folks can follow me on Twitter @DrBurkeHarris, or to follow the California Surgeon General’s office: @CA_OSG for more information. For parents and families who are really struggling, I want to encourage folks to reach out. There are so many resources that are available right now. Health Services has a disaster distress helpline. It’s 1 800-985-5990. Or you can text “talk with us” to 66746. There are also economic resources. We know a lot of families are feeling economic hardship right now. And each state is doing work to make sure that unemployment insurance is available for those who have lost work or lost hours because of the Covid crisis.
[19:46] And if folks are worried about their health, their own personal health, you can call your doctor, or you can call your local county health department if you don’t have a personal doctor for yourself. We know that this is a crisis, but we will get through this together. And I think we’re going to come out stronger on the other side.
[20:08] Good Kids is a production of Lemonada Media. It’s produced and edited by Andrew Stephen. Our executive producer is Stephanie Wittels Wachs and our music is by Dan Molad. Ad sales and distribution are by Westwood One. You can find out more about Lemonada online @LemonadaMedia. If you liked what you heard, share, rate, review, say great things about us.