BOSTON, Ma. — Disasters and their aftermath have caused short-term and long-term trauma and anxiety for kids. The San Francisco earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and the COVID-19 pandemic. All three caused, and are still causing, death, widespread loss and major disruption to family life. But experts say there are things parents can do to minimize the impact on kids.
For Anthony and Petra Soliz reading, math and sign language class are happening at home. They’re missing friends, summer camps and, for Anthony, a long awaited fifth grade graduation ceremony. Their mother, Cynthia Soliz has done the best she can and said, “I’ve tried to give them permission to just cry and be upset because this is not a fun time.”
Jessica Dym Bartlett, PhD who is a Developmental Scientist at Child Trends studying childhood resilience during natural disasters said, “You’re looking out for times when there’s much more anger or clinginess or acting out.”
Social scientists have studied the effects of natural disasters on children and can apply some of the lessons learned about resilience to the current pandemic.
Stated Bartlett, “Adults can reassure children about their safety and the safety of loved ones and tell them it’s the adult’s job to ensure their safety.” She also said that natural disasters or a public health crisis like COVID-19 will cause some kids to worry about their own safety and the safety of their loved ones and many may behave differently in reaction to strong feelings like fear, worry, sadness and anger.
Bartlett suggests parents think of the three “R’s” - reassurance, routines and regulation. For regulation, parents can guide kids through mindfulness activities.
Cynthia Soliz posts their daily routine with time assigned for chores, homework, and educational activities. Says her son Anthony, “We did a lot of Legos and baked a lot of things.” And every afternoon, they have time to play and just be kids. Cynthia Soliz said, “I understand this isn’t going to be the highlight of their childhood. But I hope it’s something they can look back on fondly”
Experts suggest that even short periods of quality time can bolster children’s sense of safety and security during scary times and you should consider setting up regular times for kids to talk with their grandparents.