“…the least of these…”
Pediatric Stress and the COVID-19 Pandemic
by Pastor Fran Pultro, Ed.M.
“…the least of these…” – Matthew 25:40
This phrase refers to those considered least in size, least in importance, least in the estimation of men. My focus today is on children.
The media – social, mainstream & fringe – are flooded with information about coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19.
Some of the information is accurate. Some is inaccurate as this virus is new and still being studied. Some is simply false or fabricated. The overwhelming amount of information about this virus makes it extremely difficult for even adults to sort through and navigate.
The seemingly contradictory nature of some COVID-19 information given by trusted authorities causes fear & confusion.
That the entire body of this information is available to children is something about which we adults should be concerned.
Do you remember how children were traumatized by the repeated rebroadcast by news media of airplanes flying into the WTC in the wake of 9/11?
Our beloved kiddos weren’t considered in the race for ratings.
I see the same thing happening today with the news about coronavirus.
Please don’t misunderstand. The advent of world-wide, real-time mass communication is a great tool in helping spread news that can teach people how to better behave in order to effectively keep the spread of coronavirus lower than if we didn’t know about it at all.
But that same world-wide, real-time mass communication is something with which the children of this generation are very familiar. They have access to it – and likely know better how to use it – than those of us in my (Boomer) generation.
Therein lies the problem.
The information we are receiving on a 24/7 basis is not contained to the media. We speak about it at home, in school and in our social circles – limited though they might be as a result of safe social distancing.
Children are also talking about this.
Children are smart. But they are still children. They see the world very differently than adults. Keep this in mind when determining how to handle this pandemic with your family, especially with your children.
The way you speak about and behave in the face of this pandemic plays a big part in helping keep the anxiety of your children at a safe level. Their emotional stability is crucial in this stressful circumstance.
Children need age-appropriate information, not the “whole ball of wax.”
They also need the information to be factual.
I know from conversations with my young patients that they are hearing rumors, opinions and “what -ifs” from other children, parents, family members and the media all of which are raising their levels of anxiety. And they are worried.
It’s important that we dispel rumors and false information. But know this – some information that is false in the minds of children is based in fact.
Who is an “elderly” person? They are an at-risk group for serious complications if they contract COVID-19. The age group being mentioned by reliable medical sources is usually “65 and over.”
But who is an “elderly person” to a child? Their parents? Their grandparents?
Many parents are in their 20’s. Many grandparents are in their 40’s.
Children worry that the adults in their lives are in danger of dying.
Children need this clarified. They need to know that elderly people are at greater risk. But this doesn’t mean those elderly people will necessarily die. If the elderly people in their lives are 65 & over let them know that proper precautions are being taken to protect those elderly people.
Just be careful to provide information that is age-appropriate; information that children of their age group are able to assimilate and comprehend so their still developing psyches are not emotionally over-loaded. This can elevate anxiety and cause emotional distress.
But don’t keep from discussing COVID-19 with children. If they perceive that coronavirus is an off-limits topic it can raise their anxiety levels when they hear your whispered discussions about it.
If your children are now home as the result of school closures I recommend that you limit their access to TV news & internet media. This includes limiting their use of smart phones. If you cannot control the type and/or amount of information they receive you aren’t protecting them to the best of your abilities.
At certain ages children do not have the maturity to distinguish between news reporting and commentary. Their young and imaginative minds are able to conjure up ideas based on misinformation that are far more disastrous than the reality.
You are the expert on your children!
Are your children extroverts or introverts? Do they tend to externalize their emotions in play, sports, music or other active ways? Do they tend to internalize their feelings? You know best.
Watch them closely for changes in their behaviors or moods. Just the extra attention you pay to them will help ease their concerns as they are reassured of your love for them.
And what about you? How are you handling the oceans of COVID-19 news?
Are you appropriately concerned and taking prudent measures to provide safety for your family? Are you panic-stricken and frozen not knowing what to do?
Just as the airlines tell us to put the oxygen masks on ourselves before tending to our children in the seats beside us – something counter-intuitive to our internal parental protective instincts – it’s important that you learn factual information about COVID-19, so you can effectively care for your family, including your children.
Your children are watching how you handle this crisis. It is a crisis. Reassure them by your behavior and in your choice of words. “Do as I say and not as I do” is always a poor way to teach children. “Practice what you preach” is always better.
If you are overwhelmed, reach out to someone in your sphere of friends for reassurance and counsel. Discussing things with other trusted adult friends is of great value in helping lower your own stress/anxiety levels.
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” – Proverbs 11:14
Children – “the least of these” about whom I write today – rely on you completely. As parents we are in that frighteningly responsible position. Let’s handle it like adults and with an others-centered loving approach to all we say and do.
If the schools are closed your creativity will be greatly challenged and exercised during this time with your children. Many out-of-the-house activities and gathering places are closed; sporting events, recreation centers, movie theaters, malls, et al. The list is ever-growing.
Your time is not your own. But it can be blessed with your beloved children present!
Teach them the basics of proper hygiene for the umpteenth time.
Especially young kids who tend to touch and lick things they ought not!
As guidelines and recommendations from the CDC are released, build on the basics your children already know. It’s a learning experience for all of us. You are now their teacher. Learn the curriculum.
Make a game of teaching safe social distancing. Create a safe way of greeting others that is peculiar to your family. Be imaginative. Ask your children to help develop that greeting. They are creative little beings!
Overall, remember that the COVID-19 pandemic will one day end. Yes, it might flare up again. Yes, someone you know might die as a result of COVID-19.
But we are not without hope.
As a pastor and chaplain, whose calling is to remind people that there is more to life than the physical world, I am duty-bound to point out the spiritual.
I am a Christian. As a Christian, I believe in the God of the Bible and His Son, Jesus Christ. Because of my heart-felt belief in Christ, I take great comfort in the promises of God as found in the Bible.
Yet this essay is not meant to evangelize.
COVID-19 is affecting people all over the world regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.
The information I share with you today is not mine alone. It can be found in many places in the internet.
I share that I am a Christian simply to point you to look to something – or Someone – other than the resources of this world in order to find the peace of heart and mind that you desire in the midst of this or any crisis.
Fran Pultro, Ed.M., CPSP, ICISF
“Pastor Fran” has been the Staff Chaplain at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, since 2002. He is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Chapel on the King’s Highway, a chaplain with the Philadelphia Police Department and an ICISF Approved Instructor.
Photo Credit: Ashawire