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Oklahoma State University

Children need support facing tornadoes and virus

Friday, March 13, 2020

Parents can help their children deal with the COVID-19 threat by providing positive support.

STILLWATER, Okla. – Parents struggling with the question of how to prepare children for the COVID-19 threat probably already have plenty of experience to tap into, Oklahoma State University professor Laura Hubbs-Tait said.

Tornado season.

“The situation is similar to how Oklahomans have learned to prepare for tornadoes or other tragedies,” said Hubbs-Tait, regents professor and Extension parenting specialist at OSU’s Department of Human Development and Family Science. “Our children recognize that something potentially horrible is coming and that it’s frightening.

“But then as parents, we talk about it with them and reinforce a very important message: ‘Always remember, I will be with you. It’s going to be OK,’” she said.

Since the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) was first recognized in China at the end of 2019, it has spread to pandemic proportions. Society continues to adapt responses such as self-quarantines, but children are not always privy to details from the government and news media about viral transmission and health outcomes. That lack of information can heighten anxieties. In short, COVID-19 becomes a faceless, scary bogeyman.

Parents are vital emotional filters, Hubbs-Tait said. They need to manage some of the images and messages that affect children negatively while increasing their emotional support. Even if it seems a child is coping well, it’s important to reduce troubling stimuli anyway.

Always listen attentively and answer truthfully, she said. That sort of feedback helps children develop a sense of control, as do reminders of other bad incidents that they successfully navigated.

The same parallel wisdom and preparation can be used to address a big follow-up anxiety: What happens if mommy or daddy gets sick from COVID-19?

“Ask them, ‘Remember when that tornado happened or the storm floods damaged the house and you had to go stay with Aunt Dorothy?’ Remind them that there are plans in place to make sure everything works out,” Hubbs-Tait said.

For more information, Hubbs-Tait suggested turning to some reputable online resources, including:

  • National Child Traumatic Stress Network – nctsn.org
  • Rogers’ Neighborhood – www.misterrogersorg/families
  • The Help Kids Cope application developed by the Ozark Centerand the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, available at app stores such as iTunes.

MEDIA CONTACT: Brian Brus | Agricultural Communications Services | 405-744-6792 | BBrus@okstate.edu

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