How to calm kids’ fears about Coronavirus

‘If adults are scared, our kids are absolutely going to be scared,’ child psychologist says

The risk level of contracting the coronavirus in San Antonio is very low, but when adults panic, kids do, too, a child psychologist said.

SAN ANTONIO – They’re some of the headlines connected to the Coronavirus: cases on the rise, quarantines, events canceled.

If you’re seeing them, your kids are probably seeing them, too.

The risk level of contracting the Coronavirus in San Antonio is very low, but child psychologist and Roy Maas Youth Alternative Chief Program Officer, Julie Strentzsch, said when adults panic, kids do too.

“If adults are scared, our kids are absolutely going to be scared,” Strentzsch said.

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That's why she said it's up to the adults to figure out how to stay calm, so the kids stay calm.

“Stores are running out of stuff. There’s no toilet paper, paper towels, shelves are empty. Our kiddos are not used to seeing empty stores, so that’s the first thing that’s going to scare them, because that’s not normal,” Strentzsch said.

That’s the first thing Dani Aldana’s 11-year-old son, Jacob Desantiago, noticed when they were shopping together.

“I overheard rumors (that) there was a shortage of hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes. Out of curiosity I went to those aisles, and of course it was missing. And he was with me and he made some comments somewhere along the lines of, ‘I wish people would stop freaking out,’” Aldana said.

Aldana knows it is hard for some kids who have heard other adults express fear.

"The Coronavirus is an apocalypse or something," Jacob said, repeating something he heard an adult say.

’I feel sick and think I might have COVID-19. What should I do?'

But Jacob said he's not afraid. If he has questions, he asks his mom.

Strentzsch said the main thing parents can do is put things in perspective.

"The unknown is always fearful," she said. "We're not panicking about influenza A and B, right? And this has been one of the worst years for both. But it's something normal, so we know how to deal with it."

Aldana said she is dealing with the Coronavirus the same way she deals with the flu: spraying items with Lysol and making sure her family keeps their hands and faces clean.

Her main concern is the false, unconfirmed information floating around on the Internet.

“I’m not trying to downplay the situation,” Aldana said. “I know it’s very serious, but I think parents need to be a little more educated on what’s going on, and then making sure kids don’t have access to everything that’s on social media.”

"I've learned not everything on YouTube is real," Jacob said.

Strentzsch said a good way to learn about facts is to research them together.

"Helping them to understand facts that we have been able to gather, and just say, 'If that changes, I'm going to let you know. You'll be the first person I tell.' So they can feel safe and secure," she said.

Strentzsch said if children seem to be stressed, get creative and choose a family activity that keeps them away from the TV or phone for a while.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy-nominated photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.