A nurse has penned a book to help children who are feeling worried about the coronavirus outbreak.
Molly Watts, a staff nurse on the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Southampton Children’s Hospital, wrote the book Dave the Dog Is Worried About Coronavirus after a night shift last week.
The nurse decided to create the free book, which has been downloaded more than 15,000 times, in order to give children “information without fear” in a factual and child-friendly way.
“With everyone talking and worrying about what is going on I kept thinking about the impact this must be having on children,” she told the Daily Echo.
“Last week when the government started releasing more advice on isolating I thought maybe I should try to write something for children to help them at this time.”
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And the book has been really well received by parents and their children.
“I’ve had lots of people tell me that their children were really anxious and didn’t understand what exactly was going on but that reading the story had helped them feel better,” she added.
With schools now closed, normal routines disrupted and coronavirus news dominating headlines, concern over the pandemic seems to be having a knock-on effect on children.
Last week BBC reported that there had been a big increase in the number of children getting help from the charity Childline because of concerns about coronavirus.
Since 21 January, Childline said it had delivered more than 300 counselling sessions to children and young people who had concerns about the virus, which causes an illness called COVID-19.
It said 145 - nearly half of the total calls - had been made, between 9 and 15 March, and that figure could no doubt continue to rise.
How can parents help children feeling anxious about coronavirus?
“So many people, including children, are finding their anxiety levels are raised at present. It is not surprising with the constant concerning news and so many unknowns and changes to people’s lifestyle,” explains Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Priory’s Wellbeing Centre in Oxford.
But there are some ways to help children and young people manage their anxiety in these uncertain times.
Manage your own anxiety
This isn’t always easy, but Dr van Zwanenberg suggests talking about your own concerns away from the children as much as possible.
“When young people see others panic-buying food and discussing if elderly relatives will be ok, or being anxious themselves, they will mirror the anxiety and worries of their parents,” she says.
“They look to their parents and family for safety and security so if those adult family members are not managing to contain much of this, it can unfortunately have a significant negative impact.”
Dr van Zwanenberg also suggests families stick to following national advice and guidance.
“Children will worry more if they know about this guidance and see it is not being followed,” she explains.
Give them the basics
Children need basic facts that lead them to feel safe and stay safe.
“We don't normally give young children figures about how many children get hit crossing the road or about how many might get abducted,” Dr van Zwanenberg says.
“We talk to them sensibly about safety; look left and right and listen before crossing a road, and do not go off with strangers. We need to use the same approach regarding coronavirus.
“For example, wash your hands well and regularly,” she adds.
Make staying home exciting
As of last Friday schools are closed for the majority of children, which is leaving many thrust into an uncertain and sudden change of home schooling. Dr van Zwanenberg suggests focussing on the positives and making the current situation regarding staying at home exciting for them.
“Discuss all the fun things you can do as a family such as playing board games and learning new skills,” she says.
“Could your child teach you some football tips or could you teach your child to cook? Compile a list of exciting things to do together and follow them through.”
Try the worry plant trick
If you find your child is asking for reassurance for worries too frequently, Dr van Zwanenberg suggests talking to them about how focusing on worries can make their worries grow, and how ignoring them can make them shrink.
“It is a bit like a plant, if you feed and water it and give it lots of attention it grows, if you ignore it, it withers and dies,” she explains.
“Make a poster with them of all the things they can do to distract themselves from their worries. It can be something simple like naming everything in the room, counting all the corners in the room or counting back from a high number in threes.
“These activities fill the mind so they cannot think of other things, and can help them get off the ‘worry train’ that is likely going round in circles. Alternatively they could change their mood and thoughts by engaging in a fun activity such as watching funny clips on YouTube or playing with the family dog or their sibling.”
Set a worry-timer
If worries continue to be an issue, Dr van Zwanenberg suggests setting a timer to allow children to have 10 minutes of worry time a day. “Set a time for this towards the end of the day but not too near to bedtime,” she says. “In the 10 minutes, they can tell you all their worries.
“You may find that if they have spotted worries during the day but ignored them because it was not worry time, they might have forgotten them by now.
“If some worries still exist, write them down, write evidence on the same piece of paper as to why they do not need to worry and have them put the worries away in a box as they are now dealt with.”
There are some really helpful apps for young people with anxiety such as Headspace and Pacifica.
Normalise their worries
If the young person has understandable worries that are not excessive or impacting on daily functioning, Dr van Zwanenberg says it is ok to say ‘I understand why you are worrying about that, I think lots of people would feel the same as you do’.
“A validating comment such as that can be helpful in itself and the young person feels reassured their feelings are ok to have, and normal,” she explains.
Seek further help
If your child is still unable to function due to extensive worries, it might be worth consulting a GP and asking for a referral to a specialist.
“Anxiety disorders are very treatable, especially if caught early,” Dr van Zwanenberg explains.