A disease outbreak can be scary for many people, but fear and uncertainty can really harm a child’s growth as well. 

UW-Madison psychology professor Travis Wright says it’s best to focus on what people can do to help each other in a crisis, rather than on the crisis itself. 

“These kinds of opportunities are moments that we can frame for children how to think about the world.”

Wright says that giving kids a gloom and doom vision of the world without a good way to frame it so that they have some way to control or help things is a good way to foster bad mental habits into the future. Kids can easily pick up on the fears of people around them, so it’s good to try and focus on things that they can handle. 

“If we frame this as a time of hysteria, as a time of self interest, as a time of fear? I think that’s a message that kids are going to internalize about the world.”

“In every sort of scary moment there’s an opportunity to see how strong we are, and I definitely think that’s a message we can share with children right now to help them feel safer and also more connected to each other and the world.”

Wright suggests limiting TV and social media time while your kids are out of school, and be sure to work with your school to continue the learning process once school districts get up to speed with long distance learning. 

Other general tips include: 

-Make yourself available when children do raise concerns.

-Avoid excessive blaming of the government, other countries, etc.

-Monitor social media and television viewing to prevent children from becoming saturated with scary messages.

-Maintain a normal routine.

-Know the symptoms of COVID-19.

-Review and model basic hygiene and healthy practices for protection.

-Communicate with your child’s teacher to ensure that your messages are aligned.

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