Tools to Help Kids Navigate Illness: A Professional Weighs In

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illness

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about the amount of information coming out about COVID-19 and the speed at which it’s coming, you are definitely not alone. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and associate program director of our fellowship program, I’ve been working with our team to address how physicians can continue to care for patients and teach students and residents, all while keeping everyone safe from a rapidly spreading illness. 

I’m also a mom to three kids, ages 7, 6 and 2. That means that after I’ve worked to educate fellow providers and future physicians, I go home to more questions and see my kids’ anxieties. Friends and family have been reaching out as well, both to commiserate at the reality of home schooling our kids for the next few weeks, but also to ask what they should be telling them. As our children increasingly see the impact of their communities acting to stop the spread of illness, they will have lots of questions and potentially increased anxiety. Here are a few tips to help guide these conversations.

  • Bring it up: Although they may seem happy to be out of school, any change in routine can be potentially stressful. Create a comfortable, relaxing space and ask them their thoughts and if they have any questions. 
  • Validate: If they do have questions or express anxiety, let them know that this is normal.  
  • Honesty is the best policy: Be honest, but reassuring. Let them know that we are working to make things better and that there are people helping those that are or may become ill. 
  • Keep it simple: Use words they can understand and repeat yourself if needed. 
  • Breathe Deep: Kids take their cues from you. If you’re calm it will help them to stay calm. 
  • Limit TV coverage: Make sure what they watch is limited, not over sensationalized and age appropriate.  
  • Understand: Kids who have had personal experience with illness, either in themselves or in close family and friends, may have increased anxiety.  
  • Acknowledge: Let them know they are doing their part by washing their hands and staying home to help protect others in their community.  
  • Be together: Social distancing is not isolation. You are one another’s biggest protective factor. Take advantage of technology by setting up FaceTime conversations with family and friends. Play games as a family, or read or cook together.  
  • Be aware: Children who are anxious may show regression, like having accidents at night or having difficulty separating from parents. They may become more irritable or complain of headaches or stomach issues.  

If your child has an underlying medical history, please check with your physician to see if extra precautions are indicated. If your child has an existing mental health condition, know that they may be more likely to have a change in behavior. If you notice prolonged difficulty with sleep, separation anxiety, persistent worry interfering with daily activities or intrusive worries or thoughts, please seek advice from your pediatrician or mental health provider.

We understand how hard parenting is, even in the best of times, let alone when things get stressful. Together, we will get past this. We will be OK: Keeping the lines of communication open is a great first step.


coronavirus language for kidsDr. Bachini has been working in behavioral health since 2001. After graduating with a degree in psychology, she worked in behavioral health hospitals, schools and social services, which provided her with opportunities to see children in various stages of development and in varied life circumstances.

She went to medical school at Drexel University School of Medicine and completed both her residency and child and adolescent fellowship at Maricopa Medical Center.

Dr. Bachini serves as an advocate for children and their families, where she strives to help parents, educators, and all those in a child’s world come to understand the unique circumstances that have shaped their minds and continue to influence their behaviors. Through speaking at conferences and in the community, Dr. Bachini hopes to help destigmatize mental health and empower children and their families.”

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