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Coronavirus on our minds:

Tips for talking to teenagers about the virus

It’s almost impossible to think about much else, with the nonstop barrage of coronavirus updates, school and shul closings, and county lockdowns. The virus’s quick spread around the world feels unprecedented, and I think it’s safe to say that none of us have ever experienced anything quite like this before, with our communal life and daily routines coming to a complete standstill.

As adults, we can rationalize that our parents’ and grandparents’ generation successfully lived through the spread of polio and the Asian flu pandemic. But how do we calm our children?

Here are some tips for helping teens reduce their anxiety during this complicated time.

Remind them that children and young adults seem less likely to get sick from Covid-19. According to a report published by the World Health Organization on February 28, “disease in children appears to be relatively rare and mild, with those under 19 years making up only 2.4 percent of the total cases.”

Reassure them that that they know what to do to protect their immune system and to reduce the chances of getting sick. Reinforce what they can control: Wash their hands for 20 seconds, don’t touch their eyes, nose or mouth, and keep a safe distance from people who are coughing.

Create new routines and schedules. Keep them busy with their zoom classes and with other home activities.

Assure them that the situation they are facing now – with schools closed and social distancing being practiced – is the best way to keep people safe.

Limit news updates. Listening to the news nonstop will increase kids’ anxiety and prevent them from focusing on other aspects of their lives. It’s best to turn off the news for most of the day and evening, listen to their questions, help correct misinformation, and put it into context for them.

Let them shop with you (online or in the supermarket when it’s not crowded) for fun foods and snacks to store at home, as you would before a big snowstorm or a hurricane. Having their favorite snacks will make this an easier time and can help them feel more prepared.

If travel plans (for Pesach or other social gatherings) are canceled, discuss it openly and share your own disappointment with them. Explain that this year, the risk of traveling isn’t worth it, but you will find another way for your family to have fun.

Model a calm response. Try to appear relaxed and project a sense of calm when you discuss this topic. Children take their cues from parents. This will help them navigate this unusual situation and can serve as a template for navigating future difficulties.

Provide comfort and validation. Teens, like younger children, also are feeling frightened, confused, and vulnerable by this “new normal.” It’s OK to let them know that you’re also feeling confused by the situation, and that we will all help each other through this unusual time.

Lastly, discuss the 4 As for dealing with stress and anxiety that may be brought on during this unsettling time:

Avoid the stressor. We can avoid Covid-19 through social distancing.

Alter yourself. Try expressing your feelings instead of bottling them up.

Adapt to the new normal. Reframe how you see things and focus on the positive (there will be no rushing to school early in the morning, you’ll get more sleep, online classes are more relaxed than when they’re in the classroom). Accept the things you can’t change. Don’t try to control the uncontrollable. You can control only your own behavior and reaction.

Stay safe and healthy!

Tani Foger, Ph.D. is the school psychologist at the Idea School in Tenafly. She and her husband, Soli Foger, live in Englewood.

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