Croatian radio: “The worst we can do is pretend to children that we don’t have to worry”

How, what, and on what way to talk to children to accept a completely coronavirus-related health emergency was the topic of the “Zdravi bili” broadcast by Croatian radio editor and presenter Silva Capurso aired on March 19, 2020 from the Dubrovnik studio. The director of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center, professor Gordana Buljan Flander, PhD, were present by phone, and due to that day identified the first case of infection in the Dubrovnik-Neretva County about  the state of the Dubrovnik General Hospital reported the director of the Marijo Bekić, PhD-MD:

The director Buljan Flander advised parents how to talk to their children about the health crisis and coronavirus:

It is not good for children to see that we are watching and listening to news all day long, and that panic is growing in us

“We are in a health crisis situation, and in such a situation, children also have certain fears, certain fantasies, certain troubles and certain issues. The worst we can do is pretend we don’t have to worry, tell the kids that they shouldn’t be scared, and not let them ask questions. It is not good for children to see that we panic, it is not good for children to see that we are watching and listening to news all day long, and that panic is growing in us. Most importantly, we know that children should be allowed their emotions, as in other crisis situations, and in general in the growth and development of children. If there are crises, we must normalize these emotions. This means that if a child says “I am afraid of this and that”, it is by no means a good reaction “that you have to be afraid you are already big”. If your child is overwhelmed with anxiety, let us ask ourselves if maybe we are overwhelmed with anxiety. Children look at what we do, they look at the expression on our face, not just what we say. This may be an opportunity to remind you that 93% of communication is non-verbal.

So, the child reads from our face whether we should worry. From our facial expression, from the color of our voice, from the way we look at it. If we say to the child “what do you know about the corona virus, let us tell us, your parents what your friends are saying”, we will see where the child is informed, what the child knows about it. By asking “is there anything that bothers you about this”, we have given the child the opportunity to express their concerns, to express their fears. When he expresses his worries and his fears, then we must give him information according to his age. If the child is a preschooler, of course we will give him less concrete information, of course we will teach them about the specific measures that are being talked about a lot these days, as this will also give them some sense of taking control in this uncertainty.

The importance of predictability and routines for mental health and a sense of security

For all of us, predictability is important for mental health and for a sense of security, and in this situation we do not have predictability. We do not know much about the current situation, we do not know how long we will be with limited social contacts, when we will return to work… but at least then let’s give the children predictability in terms of their daily routine. Have them write the homework when they wrote it otherwise, let them go to bed at the same time in the evening, play when they have played before, and of course, do not let them listen to disturbing news all day. Let’s not do it, either. Children learn from us and children imitate us, children learn from our actions. If we watch the news all day, then of course we will be upset; if we read fake news, of course we will be even more upset, so we adults, by example, must show that we watch, maybe, three times a day news: in the morning, at noon and in the evening.

If we are home, let’s not think that we are with children just because we are home. Let’s set a time when we will only deal with children. Because if we watch the news, write the mails, and at the same time, we’re on the phone, we’re not with the kids.

It is important that we give children as much information as they can understand. So if we do not know something, then we tell the child that we do not know, we will find out and together we will look for the answer.

We need to be patient with children. Children do not always talk openly. The young child will ask you something, you will answer it and may want to explain it further, and they will just say “good” and they will go play. This is developmentally appropriate to that age, unlike a school-age child with whom we can together seek answers to some questions. And of course we will give him more information.

The adolescent has more information. But when it comes to teenagers and adolescents, it is important that we as parents take responsibility for them. Adolescents have so-called teenage invulnerability, and it is normal during this developmental period, that they think that nothing can happen to them and that they are immortal. In this situation, when that child wants to go outside, when he wants to socialize, when he or she does not respect the rules of social isolation that are absolutely necessary for us now, we must take parental responsibility, set boundaries and say, “I, as a parent, do not allow you because it is something that safeguards your and our health ”and explain to him / her how it safeguards the health of grandparents, moms, uncles… it is important that we talk to adolescents well and explain to them how important it is not to go out, because if they think nothing can happen to them, they understand that it can happen to someone else.

What to do with young children?

Young children are at home now, but in this situation of uncertainty and health crisis, some young children also need extra attention, and have the additional need to talk about what is worrying them, or they will come to bed with their parents, or they can start thumbing, so go into regressive behavior, or start peeing in their panties because they feel something is going on.

That is why it is important for young children to be sure that we know what we are doing, that they know that they can rely on us and that their question will not be skipped because “the child is small and so does not understand anything”. With children, it is important that we keep the usual routine as much as possible. Children do not go to kindergarten, so their time is disturbed, but then let’s arrange a time when we will play with the children, and then arrange for the child to talk to other children from the kindergarten at some time of the day via cell phone. Let’s try to organize the routine to be as similar as possible to what was good in their lives.

Adolescents are the most demanding

Adolescents are otherwise demanding. In normal situations, parents often ask how to survive adolescence because adolescents, and this is developmentally normal, are focused on the present. Most importantly, if they had an agreement to meet with the team at the cafe, would they be able to be at the cafe. The most important thing for them is to be popular here and now, to get a liking for their status, they think that there is no life after the 20th. I caricature a little, but everyone who has adolescents knows it is.

It is important to respect their developmental specifics, not to enter with them into games of power, because we will lose that, because adolescents, from this sense of invulnerability and tendency to take risky behaviors, go much further than we would allow. If you lock their doors, they will stay out. You worry because you know what can happen to him, and he thinks nothing can happen to him. So, let’s not play power games with them.

It is really important that we talk to adolescents, set boundaries, but in an atmosphere of love and understanding. It is important that somehow we try to reach these boundaries together and try to explain to them the importance of protecting their self and others through their behavior and directing them to help others. To bring neighbors food, and the like.

Personally, I have great experiences with engaging adolescents, and their need to do something good for other people. I always mention that I have 200 volunteers on Courageous Phone, students, young people who donate their time for free and their involvement in charity, we just need to give them that opportunity.

This is an opportunity for us as parents to teach them empathy, to teach them compassion, to teach them how to help others. It will certainly help them feel better and develop a good image of themselves. ”

 

Source: Croatian Radio, “Hello There” broadcast (on Croatian language): https://radio.hrt.hr/aod/zdravi-bili/337105/

Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy.   

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