How parents and a new picture book can help kids cope with COVID-19

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“Parents need to wrestle with being honest and accurate in helping to minimize fears,” says Dr. Michael Wilkes. Photo credit: IASC/Helen Patuck

Uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted everyone’s lives and created stress. It’s also affecting children, who cannot go to school due to closures. It can be tough for parents to know what to say to kids and how to say it. 

These issues and more are tackled in a new children’s book titled “My Hero is You: How kids can fight COVID-19!” More than 50 humanitarian groups worldwide collaborated on the book, including UNESCO and the World Health Organization. More than 1700 kids, parents, teachers and other caregivers also shaped the story by sharing their personal coping mechanisms with the pandemic. The book is available in 30 languages, including Vietnamese, Arabic, Spanish, and German. You can download it here.

Aimed at ages 6-11 years, the ] book follows a young girl named Sarah who travels around the world with a dragon named Ario. They discover how the novel coronavirus affects different communities, and learn how to stay safe and limit contagion. 

The book takes a creative approach in tackling a tough issue, according to Dr. Michael Wilkes, a professor of medicine and global health at UC Davis. 

“At the end of the day, parents need to wrestle with being honest and accurate in helping to minimize fears,” he says. “Kids are hearing lots of scary things. They're hearing about death and breathing problems, and to ignore it or minimize it is probably a mistake.”

When talking about COVID-19, Wilkes says it’s important to stay age appropriate — a 4 years old requires a different approach than a 14 year old. 

Dr. Wilkes offers tips on reducing kids’ fears and anxieties:

Limit screen time. And when they do watch TV, join them and have a discussion around what they're seeing.

“Remind young people that everything they're hearing isn't accurate and that if they have questions, they can come in and ask you.”

The story follows Sarah as she travels around the world to learn more about the novel coronavirus. Image credit: IASC/Helen Patuck.

Talk to kids about what their friends and classmates are saying. Wilkes says it can be a window into how and what they’re thinking about. 

Listen. It’s just as important to listen to kids than to talk with them, Wilkes says. 

It’s best not to force the topic, but when they are ready to talk, carefully listen to what they care about.

“Kids have these magical imaginations, which is what's so wonderful about the book, [but] small isolated facts can take on a huge significance in a child's mind,” he notes. 

If a child gets fixated, it’s best to walk them through the fact and help put it into perspective. 

Reach out to grandparents. If a child is worried about an older person in their lives, they should make a call (audio only or video) with that person, Wilkes advises.

Lead by example. Wilkes brings up the scenario of a parent telling a teenager not to smoke, but smokes themselves. “What we do is far more important than what we say,” he says.

Remind them: It’s okay to feel this way. Wilkes says this is an opportunity to teach kids about resilience. 

“In a practical sense, [COVID-19 reminds them] that it's normal and okay to feel stressed out at times — everybody does as our routines change.”

Credits

Guest:
Michael Wilkes - Host of 'Second Opinion'

Host:
Chery Glaser

Producers:
Darrell Satzman, Danielle Chiriguayo, Amy Ta