COVID-19 Information for Veterans and their Families Report
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations like the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people want to talk about it all the time. Others would rather think about anything else. This can make it hard to know what to say or how to support those who may be struggling. Here are some tips on how to navigate these difficult conversations with children and teens, with children and teens with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and with adult loved ones and colleagues.
Talking to children and teens
Many children and teens are struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re no longer able to take part in their usual activities. They may feel fearful or overwhelmed when using social media to talk with their friends — and during a public health crisis like this, too much media coverage of any kind can increase their distress. They may also feel anxious regarding their schooling situation — whether they are attending in-person classes or virtual classes. Talk to your children and teens about their schooling situation, and help them implement mitigation plans for how to cope with new academic and social routines.
Children and teens are also highly sensitive to changes in the mood around them. They often pick up on parents’ or siblings’ stress even when it’s unspoken, noticing subtle behavioural cues you may not even be aware of. This can make them worry about their loved ones, and yet they’re typically less capable than adults of managing high levels of stress and frustration.
Like adults, not all children respond to stress the same way. Some may become clingy and want extra attention, seeking safety in their surroundings. Others may become distant, defiant, or argumentative. They may insist on doing things their way to regain a sense of control. At times, these behaviours can create family conflict.
What can you do?
The most important thing is to be honest. Don’t downplay the seriousness of the situation, but stay calm and optimistic when you talk about it. Don’t push children who don’t want to talk about the pandemic: check in regularly and let them know you’re ready to listen whenever they’re ready to talk.
When you do talk about COVID-19, ask open-ended questions such as:
- “What would you like to know?”
- “How does this make you feel?”
- ‘When you feel X, what does that make you want to do?”
- “What do you need right now?”
- “When you do X, how do you feel?”
Make sure conversations include space for kids and teens to ask questions. Try not to overwhelm them with information. Start with small amounts of information and see how they respond. It’s also fine if you don’t know the answer to every question. Take the opportunity to learn together.
Another way to foster a positive environment at home during the pandemic is to be kind and caring to your partner (if you have one) and to yourself. Take time for yourself every day, even if it’s only a few minutes. It will help you model resilience and a sense of calm in your home.
The following sites have more tips on age-appropriate ways to talk to your kids about COVID-19:
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Talking to children about COVID-19 and its impact
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Parent/caregiver guide to helping families cope with the coronavirus disease 2019
- Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress: Discussing coronavirus with your children
- Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress: Finding the right words to talk with children and teens about coronavirus
- Canadian Psychological Association: Helping teens cope with the impacts of and restrictions related to COVID-19
If your child needs additional support, Kids Help Phone provides confidential counselling by phone, text, and live chat, along with a collection of additional resources for children and teens. The Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services also offers a Crisis Text Line for Kids available 24/7 that can be used by texting CAFKIDS to 686868 (powered by Kids Help Phone).
Talking to children and teens with intellectual and developmental disabilities
Many children and teens with intellectual and developmental disabilities may be struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. Your loved one may be experiencing higher levels of distress than usual, as well as disruptions to their typical routine. In addition to considering the tips listed in the section above, you can help your loved one by communicating in their preferred style, looking out for changes in their routine, and leaning on your support networks.
Communicate in their preferred style
It’s important to talk to your loved one using a communication style that they prefer. For example, some children and teens prefer to communicate via visual stories. Visual stories can help your loved one better understand the virus and the steps they need to take to protect themselves from it. Using your loved one’s communication style, use clear and direct language when talking about COVID-19. Talk about how the virus may impact their routine. Be sure to provide your loved one the opportunity to process the information and share their thoughts and feelings about the current situation.
Look out for changes in their routine
It may be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain typical routines during the pandemic. It’s important to implement alternative routines in response to new realities and limitations influenced by the global pandemic. With alternative routines in place, keep a look out for changes in your loved one’s behaviour, or for other signs of distress. For example, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, may be a sign of concern. Such changes may be signs that your loved one is communicating their distress to you. If you identify changes, this may mean that your child requires additional support from you or from a professional.
Lean on your support network
Be sure to reach out and remain connected to the support networks that exist in your community. Maintaining your connection to other families, support groups, online networks, or your loved one’s teachers or counsellors, increases your access to resources that can help you best support your loved one. Such support networks could also support you and your needs as a caregiver during this pandemic.
The following sites have more tips on the ways to support loved ones with intellectual and developmental disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Beyond Worlds: Coping with Coronavirus
- Autism Society of America: COVID-19 Toolkit
- Autism Society of America: COVID-19 Social Stories
- Autism Speaks Canada: COVID-19 Information and Resources
- Autism Speaks Canada: Talking to your Child about Tragedy: Six Tips for the Autism Community
- MENCAP: COVID-19 – Helpful Advice and Information
- Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: COVID-19 Self-help Booklet Series
- Centre on Human Development – University of Oregon: Talking about Change – A Story about Coronavirus
- ConnectAbility.ca: COVID-19 Disability Sector Resources
Talking to older adults living with dementia
Many older adults living with dementia may also be struggling to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Your loved one may be experiencing confusion, sadness or frustration about the current situation. They may also be experiencing disruptions to their typical routine. These factors can contribute to higher levels of distress than usual. You can help your loved one by explaining COVID-19, supporting them in maintaining hygiene and physical distancing, and staying connected.
It’s important to talk to your loved one about COVID-19 and the impacts it may have on their routine. Speak calmly and use clear and concise language. Think about the questions that your loved one may have and prepare answers ahead of time. You may need to explain the current situation to your loved one a few times, so be sure to remain patient and calm. Reassure your loved one that you will support them through this time to the best of your abilities. Explain to your loved one how their routine may be impacted by physical distancing, but be sure to tell them about activities they can engage in to remain connected.
Support them to maintain hygiene and physical distancing
Your loved one may require assistance in maintaining hygiene or physical distancing to prevent infection. Spend time demonstrating the actions your loved one should take to maintain their hygiene (for example, washing hands). Provide step-by-step instructions verbally and through printed instructions using a large font and pictures. To support your loved one to maintain physical distancing, arrange for necessary supplies (groceries, medications, etc.) to be delivered to their home if possible. Arrange virtual opportunities for your loved one to stay connected with family and friends. Avoid using scare tactics.
If you do not live with your loved one, arrange for opportunities to remain connected via technology or through physical distancing. If connecting via technology, ensure that your loved one has access to a device, and is able to use it. Take advantage of video or audio call technology to connect with your loved one often. If connecting in person at a safe distance, be sure to remind your loved one to maintain their physical distance ahead of time.
In addition, be sure to reach out and remain connected to the support networks that exist in your community. Maintaining your connection to other families, support groups, online networks, or your loved one’s teachers or counsellors, increases your access to resources that can help you best support your loved one. Such support networks could also support you and your needs as a caregiver during this pandemic.
The following sites have more tips on the ways to support older adults living with dementia during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Alzheimer Society of Canada: Managing through COVID-19
- Canadian Frailty Network: Additional Resources for COVID-9 and Older Adults Living with Frailty
- Canadian Coalition for Seniors’ Mental Health: COVID-19 Resources
- Ontario Degenerative Disease Research Initiative: Social Distancing YES, Social Isolation NO
- Alzheimer’s Disease International: ADI Offers Advice and Support during COVID-19
- Centre for Ageing Better: Age-friendly Communities and COVID-19
Talking to loved ones and colleagues about COVID-19
Your loved ones and colleagues may also be struggling to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. You can help by listening to them, understanding their concerns, and suggesting coping strategies and resources.
Support people how they want to be supported
Be empathetic. Try to see things from the perspective of the person you’re talking to and understand how they feel. If they’re open to your help, ask how you can support them. Some people may just need to vent, while others may want to gather information and find ways to take action.
Share facts in a clear and straightforward manner, keeping in mind that sometimes too much negative information, especially from news or social media, can make some people’s anxiety worse. This is because our minds automatically simplify complex information: we try to remember “just the important stuff” for efficiency. The mind tends to prioritize information that provokes negative emotions because it could affect our safety. (This negativity bias is reflected in the way the news media tends to focus on stories that are about tragedies — and in the ways we respond to online clickbait). Overconsuming negative information can affect how we perceive risk, and the stress we feel as a result.
Check in regularly to see how your loved ones and colleagues are doing and keep yourself available in case they need your support.
Help people regain a sense of control
Psychological research shows that emotions play a bigger role in our perception of risk than data and evidence. Even when evidence suggests the risk is low, if we’re feeling afraid, we’ll tend to perceive the risk to be greater. Fear is often driven by a lack of control, especially if a situation is unfamiliar.
With no vaccine available yet, the COVID-19 pandemic may be especially frightening for public safety personnel who could come into contact with confirmed or suspected cases.
As with other viral infections, there are simple things everyone can do to minimize exposure and risk. Good hand hygiene is one of the most important. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
Emphasize to your friends and family that these simple actions are within their control — and are some of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of this virus.
Encourage people to help others
It can be helpful for people to refocus their attention on others. Focusing outward often helps people feel better about themselves. They might prepare a meal or shop for an elderly neighbour (taking appropriate precautions). They could offer to listen to another friend, whether to provide advice or to simply validate their feelings.
Supporting others can help reframe the situation and remind people they’re not alone. It can also be helpful to keep an eye out for positive events or experiences that can help balance the current focus on the negative.
Take care of yourself
To help others during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, you first have to take care of yourself. Take a break if you need one. Get support when you need it. See Taking care of your basic needs for strategies to maintain your own wellbeing.
- NATAL Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center. Supporting your children in times of stress.
- Ameis, S. H., Lai, M. C., Mulsant, B. H., & Szatmari, P. (2020). Coping, fostering resilience, and driving care innovation for autistic people and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Molecular Autism, 11(1), 1-9.
- Autism Speaks Canada. COVID-19 Information and Resources. (2020). https://www.autismspeaks.ca/media-request-contact-us/news/news-press-releases/covid-19-information-and-resources/
- Faustino, P. (2015). Talking to your Child about Tragedy: Six Tips for the Autism Community. https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/talking-your-child-about-tragedy-six-tips-autism-community
- Dyson, M. (2020). Tips for Talking With Your Child with Autism about the Coronavirus. Retrieved August 27, 2020, from https://childmind.org/article/tips-for-talking-with-your-child-with-autism-about-the-coronavirus/
- Managing through COVID-19. (2020). https://alzheimer.ca/en/Home/Living-with-dementia/managing-through-covid-19
- Social Distancing YES, Social Isolation NO. (2020). Retrieved from https://ondri.ca/social-distancing-yes-social-isolation-no/
- ADI offers advice and support during COVID-19. (2020). Retrieved 2020, from https://www.alz.co.uk/news/adi-offers-advice-and-support-during-covid-19