How we can help kids increase their sense of control as the coronavirus approaches

Pandemic viruses hit on all of those stressors, more so for the young, for whom the novelty is higher and a sense of control lower

. Neuroscience shows that it is adversity in life, dealing with tolerable challenges and stressors, that wires the brain for resilience. We practice to develop that “muscle.” So, while ideally we will be spared the worst of casualties, economic disruption and inconvenience, there’s an opportunity to make something more of the situation. We can use it to help us, and our kids, increase our sense of control.

Here’s how:

1. Make a plan … and a Plan B. Visualizing how to navigate a situation activates neural pathways in ways similar to actually doing the thing. This is why airlines give the same instructions to passengers time after time. Worrying is not preparation, but anticipating difficulties and making multiple plans to navigate them is. To credit Lupien, there are few things more paralyzing than feeling you have only one tool that doesn’t work or one route that is blocked, so make a Plan B too.

2. Make a list. Putting plans, thoughts and concerns on paper can increase a sense of control, lower the power of those concerns and free up cognitive resources.

3. Assign kids something to do. Parents want to make kids feel safe. But it’s better if we make them feel brave. Protecting them makes us feel better by increasing our sense of control, but works against their feeling a sense of control.

4. Teach kids where to get help. 

5. Teach kids how to help. When kids can see washing hands as something that helps others and not just themselves, it increases their sense of control. Hygiene becomes a super power!

6. Spread calm. My brother, a paramedic, is unflappable in a calamity. He cared for a patient in crisis recently and afterward one of the hospital nurses told him, “It was so helpful to have you here. You were so calm, which helped us be calm, too.” In scenarios where family members are understandably alarmed or panicking, he’ll calmly say, “Do I look alarmed? This is manageable. If you like, I can let you know if you should panic.” We can effectively create herd immunity.

7. Make an effort to recognize things you cannot control. Hypervigilance is exhausting, so don’t see every person as a sick person.

8. Take the long view. We can remind ourselves of the difficulties we and our families have weathered in the past. It engages our coping skills, helping us better figure out how we will get through this challenge if it comes our way.

9. Talk back against your own fear in front of your kids. For example: “It is really scary that so many people are sick. It’s all they talk about on the radio. But I know that the news doesn’t talk about the fact that everyone else is doing fine, or all the people who are only a little sick. And I know that if one or more of us does get sick, we have a good plan and other people looking out for us.”