Schools in communities across the world are closing their doors as part of precautionary measures against the spread of COVID-19, and many parents find themselves in new and unfamiliar territory. Parents must now face the challenge of keeping their children occupied and educated, all while balancing their professional and financial responsibilities with potential personal and spiritual anxieties.
Chai Lifeline has received numerous questions from parents, struggling to deal with this new reality. Rabbi Dr. Dovid Fox, director of interventions & community education at Project Chai, Chai Lifeline’s crisis intervention, trauma and bereavement department, has published the following Frequently Asked Questions & Answers to help parents manage quarantine-related issues and navigate this unfolding health crisis.
Q: How much detail should I share with my children about the current health crisis?
A: First, ask your children what they have already heard, and what concerns or worries them. Young children should be given reassurance that this is a temporary change to help keep people healthy. School-aged children should have their questions answered in a way that does not alarm them but gives them simplified basic facts. Teens should be presented with the facts in a non-alarming manner, with the clarification that as more information comes out, there will be greater clarity. Discourage rumoring and gossip.
Q: How do I respond to my child’s fears?
A: Allow them to express their thoughts and feelings and be a caring listener. Don’t tell them that they shouldn’t think or feel the way they do. Instead, let them know that during uncertain times, it is normal to have concerns and anxiety. When your child sees that you hear them and care, they will be receptive to your reassurance.
Q: If we are quarantined, how can we reduce avoidable stress to our family?
A: It is important to have a plan during the time when you will be alone together in your home. It is possible that people will become irritable and impatient, so to avoid this, be sure to set a routine. Stick to a schedule that includes normal tasks, study, wake time, sleep time and mealtime. Be sure to introduce structure into your family time so that you have quiet activities together, some creative and fun time, and create bonding opportunities by having discussions about how each of you is doing, what could be added to the day to make it more stimulating, etc.
Q: What changes should we implement during this time?
A: To maintain health, practice proper hygiene and wash hands frequently with soap, avoid unclean places and items, get ample sleep, nutrition, fresh air, and exercise. Encourage children to share their feelings and thoughts without being critical when a child is behaving or reacting at a developmentally common level. Parents should avoid arguing in their presence.
Q: How can I address this situation with my children with a Torah perspective?
A: Parents can turn this difficult interval into an opportunity to discuss with children our essential values and beliefs, how we draw on faith during difficulty, and how we aim to turn our thoughts and feelings to Hashem, especially when life seems disrupted. Speak with your children at a level that matches their comprehension and their knowledge. You are their finest role model for demonstrating to them how a conscientious Torah individual faces a challenge.
Q: How can I handle my own fears as an adult? I have financial responsibilities… I need to provide for my family, and we may be quarantined for weeks?
A: It is normal to worry and to have fears during times of stress and uncertainty. Find someone whom you trust and admire with whom you can voice your struggles. You can direct them to listen, to be encouraging and supportive, and you can ask them not to be critical or judgmental when right now you need to ventilate your worries without feeling bad about yourself. Having a caring person with whom to express your feelings is a powerful step towards understanding and accepting yourself, then seeking tools to inspire yourself.
Q: How much emotion should I show my children?
A: When it comes to showing your children love, affection and caring, displaying your warmth to them assures that home is a safe and calming environment. Conversely, when it comes to sharing your distress with them, that is a very different matter. Remember that you are your children’s role model, and they need to see that you are coping lest they grow more fearful or withdrawn. It is helpful to acknowledge to them that these times are indeed a challenge, but overly dramatic displays of your own distress will dishearten your child. Keep perspective, use discretion, and make wise judgments as a parent.
Chai Lifeline encourages anyone with questions or concerns in adjusting to the stresses of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic to contact its Project Chai 24-Hour Crisis Helpline, 855-3-CRISIS, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.