Don’t lie to your older loved ones, same as for little ones. Remember that even if you try to shield your loved ones from what is going on they will still know that something is up. They read you well, feel your anxiety, hear what you are not saying, and will generally tap into the unrest. If you tell them everything is fine, nothing is happening, they will know or feel you are lying. The risk of this is that they will feel alone in their worry, and will not trust that you will tell them the truth. You want to establish yourself as the truth teller in their life, now and always.
So what DO you say to your older loved ones?
A. Be Mindful. Consider their ability to understand if there is cognitive impairment.
All of this is especially hard on people who have loved ones with mild to severe
cognitive impairment. If this is you, be ready to explain what is happening often,
as stress exacerbates existing symptoms and your loved ones may need frequent reminders of what is happening in the world and why you may not be able to see
them now. Write notes, or have your loved one write notes while you are on
an audio or video call with them. Also consider their normal anxiety level. Often
older adults experience a general increase in anxiety as they age, especially if
they experienced anxiety as a younger adult.
B. Be Detailed. Unless they have complicating conditions like impairment or
anxiety, you want to patiently present them with details. Vague comments will
only lead to more anxiety, so sit them down and tell them what you know. Give
them time and be prepared to answer a lot of questions. If there is something
you don’t know, or can’t answer when they ask, reassure them that you will try to
find the answers together when possible. If your loved one is anxious, focus on
few details to reduce confusion and subsequent anxiety.
C. Be encouraging. You want to draw out the hope, even when telling them clear
details. For example, if you have to let your loved one know that you are suspected
to be infected, or are infected, you want to give them all the facts you can, but also
give them some hopeful sentiments. Let them know that even though the situation
can be stressful, and in some cases a little scary, no matter what happens you
will get through it together. And that he or she is not alone, even if they are
D. Be Present. No matter the cognitive capability or know-how of your loved one,
they are likely to have thoughts and feelings about what is happening. Resist
swooping in and telling them how to feel, or being quick to rationalize, fix, play
down, or interpret for them. Your job is simply to give them the space to talk to you.
Let me them vent. Validate their feelings. And then hug them (virtually if you
are not together) if they want one and tell them you will all get through this
together. Do this before you explain why their fears are unfounded, or why you
are sure their worries won’t come true. Listen first, then reassure or make a
plan together about how to address their concerns. Help them navigate through
the piles of information coming at us daily if they need it, or peruse the news
E. Be opportunistic. After you have discussed the presence of Covid-19, focus
on what you can do. When people feel anxious, it is often because the world
feels out of control. So brainstorming ideas of what they can do during this time
will help reduce anxiety. You can focus on the connection together, discuss ways to
help each other and others. Be sure to ask them what they need. If they want you
to check in with them 3 times a day, then you or someone you collectively
designate should plan for that. Remember that even though you are now a
grownup, your loved one is still in charge of loving you and is wired to want to
care for you. Even if you don’t need them to care for you, it is helpful to try and find
ways to let them in. Letting them help you will in turn help them.
Which leads me to an important part of all of this: YOU. Don’t forget to get support you may need. You may have old patterns with your older loved ones that get kicked back into centerstage during times like these. Or new patterns emerge, where you are the calm caretaker of someone who has always been that for you. Support should flow into you and out of you in equal volume. The more you get, the more you can give. You may want to pull back on the emotional part of what is going on, and stick more to the concrete facts as a way of protecting your older loved ones, and that is fine, just make sure the emotional part has someone(s) to support it. It’s got to go somewhere. More on that in another post…
1. Establish and maintain a routine. This seems like a fun time to stay up late, let the kids sleep in the morning, and generally lounge around during the day without an agenda. But kids thrive on routine, even if they complain about it, and they will especially need it when the energy around them is chaotic.
2. Watch for anxiety oozing. It is unavoidable to keep what is happening from your kid, unless they are very small. Kids will know the routine is different and that you are different. But try to reserve your anxious thoughts for other adults, and be the calm presence your kids need you to be. You might have to practice being the face of calm, while your stomach is panic!
3. Don’t lie to your kids. Remember that even if you try to shield your kids from what is going on, depending on their age, they will still know that something is up. They read you well, feel your anxiety, hear what you are not saying, and will generally tap into the unrest. If you tell them everything is fine, nothing is happening, they will know or feel you are lying. The risk of this is that they will feel alone in their worry, and will not trust that you will tell them the truth. You want to establish yourself as the truth teller in their life, now and always. This is important to establish so they will feel they can come to you.
4. So what DO you say to your kids?
A. Be Mindful. Consider the age and maturity level of the child before you answer. Consider what they need to know. Fear reverse-ages people, so when talking about something worrisome or scary, the maturity level should go down by several years. At least start there. You can always add more detail once you see how they handle the information. But you can’t go backwards and suck the information back in once it’s out there.
B. Be Simple. Don’t get bogged down in details of what is happening, unless it is an older child, in which case you can give a bit more detail. Focusing on washing hands and staying home to make sure other people don't get sick is enough for most ages without having to go into detail about # of cases, # of deaths, # of countries involved, etc.
C. Be encouraging. Let them know that even though the situation is stressful,
and a little scary, no matter what happens you will get through it together.
And that the child is not alone. Reassure them that there are many people in
place that are working to ensure we are as safe as possible. You may feel
strongly that the political leaders and authoritative members did not do a good
job, but that's an adult conversation, or a conversation for another time when
we are through this crisis. For now, kids of all ages need reassurance. But don't
lie. Don't make promises you can't ensure, like "we will never get infected. We
are safe as long as we stay home. No one you know will get sick." Instead,
focus on reassuring them that no matter what happens you will get through it
D. Be Open. No matter the age of your child, they are likely to have thoughts
and feelings about what is happening. Resist swooping in and telling them how
to feel, or being quick to rationalize, fix, play down, or interpret for your child.
Your job is simply to give them the space to talk to you. Let me them vent.
Validate their feelings. And then hug them if they want one and tell them they
are right to feel how they are feeling, and strategize together what to do
about those feelings. Remember, how you make yourself feel better will not
necessarily be the thing that makes your child feel better. Take your cue from
them, try different things, and be open to trying alternative things. It's a process,
but a very useful one.
E. Be present. If you have older children, you want to peruse the internet WITH
them instead of having them go off and search on their own. Even if they don’t
tell you, you want your presence to be a comfort to them while they read
some scary statistics or first hand reports. Reassure them as you would a
younger child, even if they seem too old for it. Strange times make the best of
us regress a little. This also gives you the opportunity to limit the amount of news
F. Be opportunistic. After you have discussed the presence of Covid-19, focus
on what you can do. When people feel anxious, it is often because the world
feels out of control. So giving your kid ideas of what they can do during this time
will help reduce anxiety. You can focus on the connection together and the fun
things you can do at home. Tackle old projects, or create new ones. You can
also discuss ways to help others remotely. Let them be idea generators as well
as helpers. Find ways to give them ownership to what is happening at home, and
it will change the story from what we can't control in the world.
*What to Expect
*How Therapy Works