The Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University has created a brief video offering parents advice on how to help children cope with COVID-19.
The video features Charlotte Waddell, director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre, who says that physical distancing doesn’t have to mean loss of connections.
She suggests that parents help children by:
• Getting help themselves when needed to manage stress and to help kids maintain healthy routines
• Encouraging kids to stay connected with friends and family using social networks and the phone
• Remembering how COVID19 affects some children and families more than others
• Thinking of ways to be helping others, which in turn contributes to resilience
“Social connections are crucial for children, as they are for adults,” Waddell says. For more information on specific steps parents and caregivers can take to support kids in the time of COVID-19, go here.
The Children’s Health Policy Centre has taken on a new research project to comprehensively estimate children’s mental health needs in BC and recommend how they can be met. The BC Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) has requested this effort, to inform new services for children’s mental health.
This project will inform needs-based planning by:
• Reviewing the latest epidemiological data on the prevalence of the 10 most common childhood mental disorders
• Summarizing the best evidence on exemplary prevention and treatment interventions for young people
• Examining public datasets that can be used to track children’s mental health outcomes going forward, and
• Synthesizing prevalence, intervention and public data evidence to suggest a comprehensive plan for BC
Led by BC MCFD’s Child and Youth Mental Health Policy Branch, a cross-governmental policy advisory group for the project includes senior representatives from the:
• BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions (co-sponsor)
• BC Ministry of Health
• BC Ministry of Education
• First Nations Health Authority, and
• Métis Nation of BC
Other policy collaborators are also being consulted as needed.
The CHPC team is being led by Charlotte Waddell, Christine Schwartz and Nicole Catherine — together with Jen Barican, Donna Yung and Yufei Zheng. Additional scientific collaborators include Kathy Georgiades from McMaster University and Bohdan Nosyk and Emanuel Krebs from Simon Fraser University.
This project is being conducted from 2019 through 2021. For more information, please contact Brigitte Bennetsen.
The COVID-19 public health emergency is putting a lot of pressure on parents, caregivers and others who work with children. They must explain challenging concepts to help children manage their fears and keep routines as stable as possible.
To assist with these challenges, we offer the following suggestions:
- Create situations for children to comfortably ask questions at their own pace. Answer questions honestly using concepts that children can easily understand. For example, explain that the new coronavirus is one of many different types of viruses, like the ones that cause colds. And be ready to repeat your answers as children may re-ask the same questions as a way to gain reassurance.
- Help children manage their fears by modelling calmness and by providing accurate information. This can include explaining the steps you are taking to keep them healthy and safe. (See sidebar, below.) It may also involve highlighting the many actions that community members are taking to protect everyone. And avoid letting children be exposed to media sources that could unnecessarily increase their anxiety.
- Maintain children’s regular routines as much as possible. Fun activities, like playing outdoors and bike riding, are still possible even with physical distancing. Similarly, technology can help with other important activities like play dates and connecting with grandparents.
- Encourage children to think about ways they can help others. This could include, for example, helping neighbours who may need things delivered to their doors, sending positive messages to loved ones who may not be near, or communicating with other children about doing schoolwork together, remotely.
Our sidebar, below, gives helpful resources for parents and families. For children who are experiencing more severe anxiety, the book Helping Your Anxious Child may be particularly useful. (Many local bookstores are offering free shipping for online and phone orders.) The book provides guidance to parents of school-age children on ways to teach cognitive-behavioural strategies to reduce anxiety, including recognizing worries and changing the thinking that encourages them.
Collectively, we have faced serious challenges in the past — including wars, 9/11 and wildfires. We will weather this latest crisis as well, with strong public health leadership and with the support of everyone who cares for and works with children.
Resources for parents and families
New resources to help children — and their parents or caregivers — cope with COVID are being developed rapidly. These include:
- a comic explaining the virus and how to keep safe
- a silent video showing good handwashing techniques
- a new book on handwashing aimed at kids
- a webpage highlighting relaxation exercises
- Seven support strategies to meet the unique needs of children on the Autism Spectrum
- General information on COVID and kids from Canada’s pediatricians
- COVID info sheets — in more than 30 languages
- Info on how to support youth with anxiety disorders
- The CARD system for coping with fears and anxieties
A significant percentage of very young mothers in BC are coping with low income, poor education and mental health challenges. These were the issues highlighted by Katie Hjertaas, Ange Cullen and Charlotte Waddell speaking at SFU Vancouver’s inaugural Lunch ‘n’ Learn event, Feb. 6, on the topic Improving Children’s Lives Through Research.
This new series of lunch hour sessions showcases how SFU’s Vancouver research is making a positive difference in society.
Hjertaas, Cullen and Waddell came to their understanding of the challenges facing very young mothers in part through working on the BC Healthy Connections Project (BCHCP). This randomized controlled trial aims to assess Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), an intensive, home-based nursing program for very young mothers and their children. NFP runs throughout pregnancy and the child’s first two years of life.
The talk showed that the 739 girls and young women in the study were coping with daunting challenges when they first enrolled:
- 83% were living on less than $20,000 per year
- Half were coping with not having grade 12 or equivalent, and those still in school had their education interrupted by pregnancy
- Many experienced housing instability
- 74% were coping with mental or physical health problems that affected their daily activities
- 56% reported experiencing maltreatment when they were children themselves.
Findings from this study are already informing public health policy locally, nationally and beyond — with more reports to come, particularly on how NFP can benefit children.