Jan. 6, 2022 -- With the arrival of the Omicron variant, these are not easy days for parents, for kids, or for anyone who is trying to figure out what’s best when it comes to the very simple act of attending school.
As we’ve seen, one day your child could be on the school bus heading to school, the next testing positive for COVID-19 and needing to quarantine for days. It’s a dizzying time of stress, anxiety, and confusion that is taking its toll.
“Everyone is so agitated right now,” says Andrea Bonior, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Washington, DC, and author of Detox Your Thoughts.
There are things we can do to make it easier, she says. First is to take a pause.
“It’s very easy to be reactionary in what we do and for things to escalate,” Bonior says.
Instead, she says, think through your actions and recognize that the uncertainty surrounding us has everyone at a heightened state of alert.
And, while parents are among the most stressed right now, it’s crucial for you to be available to your kids. After all, they’ve been navigating 2-plus years of a pandemic and may find this overwhelming virus surge scarier than you realize.
To help parents help their kids weather today and the days ahead, WebMD asked Steven Meyers, PhD, a professor and chair of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, for the five things parents need to do -- now:
1: Give kids the right information
Depending on how old you child is, tailor a message about the Omicron surge that’s understandable.
“Given the uncertainty and misinformation out there, it’s hard for parents to navigate this terrain, so just think about how hard it is on your kids,” Meyers says.
Keep the message clear about how the whole family can stay safe and define what acceptable risk means.
“For example,” he says, “if you have a family member who is immunocompromised, that risk will look different than if your family is young and healthy. The threat level will vary, and this is important to keep in mind because being COVID-positive will have different impacts on people’s lives, depending on everyone’s overall health.”
2: Lean into the unknowable
Instead of acting like you know it all, explain to your kids that the facts about the Omicron variant are developing as we learn more and more about it.
“Parents should explain that science is always changing, and as we learn more, the recommendations and decisions will change, too,” Meyers says.
“When we’re stressed, we tend to rely on safe versus unsafe, right versus wrong. But we have to get used to the idea that where we are right now with this pandemic, the guidance is going to keep changing just as the spread and the risk will keep changing.”
3: Discuss what safety means to everyone
If you child says they don’t want to go to school due to the risk of catching COVID, listen to their concerns.
“Then calmly explain that you’ve followed vaccine guidelines and that it’s important to be as safe as possible, depending on his or her age and when he or she got their vaccine and booster,” Meyers says. “Remember that each person in your family will have a very individual reaction to a situation like this and will have different worries and concerns.”
4: Watch for anxiety warning signs
As parents know, kids right now are facing considerable stress and anxiety about the pandemic and are fatigued from 2 years of this.
“Especially among teens, some will keep their fears to themselves, while others will let them leak out through less productive channels, such as erroneous social media postings, headaches, stomachaches, or an inability to sleep,” Meyers says. “It’s key for parents to play close attention to these signs of anxiety and keep the lines of communication open.”
5: Help your teen rethink FOMO
When teens see Instagram stories featuring their friends partying and gathering in large groups right now, the fear of missing out -- or FOMO -- is real.
As a parent, you can turn FOMO into something pretty amazing, Meyers says.
“Emphasize the virtue in being safe,” he says. “Try to help your teen find a way to transfer this from a feeling of loss to a feeling of what we can gain.”
An example, he says, is that following safety protocols means not only that we stay healthy, but we protect those we care about.
“We are collectively contributing to health of our community,” he says. “That might not sound fun, but it’s very important. Parents need to frame being considerate to others as a genuine strength, not a weak consolation prize.”