COVID-19 and Relationships

Talking with kids about coronavirus

To help parents, an IU psychologist partnered with local organizations to host Facebook live and Zoom sessions to discuss communicating with children about COVID-19, and posted guidance to the blog, Make Words Matter.

"During times of crisis and uncertainty, children look to adults to tell them how to feel and what to do,” says Beth Trammell, a licensed psychologist and associate professor of psychology at IU East. “So it's really important for adults to pay attention to what we say."

For parents wondering how they can know if their child is not doing well, Trammell says communication is the key. Give children permission to have their own concerns and space to speak up about them. Behaviors such as meltdowns or major changes in sleeping or eating are signs that adults should check in and connect, she says. For younger children, the message of physical and emotional safety is important; for adolescents, empathizing with the pandemic's barriers to peer interaction and connection is key.

Parenting expert Beth Trammell discusses how to communicate with kids during the pandemic.

Description of the video:

[Music plays]

[Indiana University, appears on screen. Words Graphic: Beth Trammell Associate Professor, Psychology appears at bottom of screen]

[Professor with dark curly hair seated in armchair appears on screen, talking]

Hey, everyone. My name is Dr. Beth Trammell, and I'm here to talk with you about some tips and strategies for talking with your teens and tweens about the COVID-19 - getting through the cancellations and the, you know, postponement of things, all of which may feel like a really big deal to your child. So the first do is to remember that it really may be a big deal to them. Allow them the space to be upset about it. Don't tell them, well don't be so dramatic, you know, there's worse things in the world. Right, missing all of these milestones, prom, graduation, maybe a summer party that they were looking forward to. You know my kids were looking forward to going to camp, and that may not happen. It's gonna look like grief. Do not underestimate how much they still need you. They're gonna waffle through a whole bunch of different emotion. Remember grief is not a linear process where it's like okay they're beyond the anger phase so we won't have to deal with it again. It's okay for them to keep weaving in and out of those spaces. Do try to be creative in making some of these things up. So, you know, we've been doing some parades for teachers in our community. Maybe there is an opportunity for you to help them be creative with how they can make up their graduation open house. Maybe it's a parade through your street and all the family drops off cards in a little box and, you know, your graduating senior is there at the end of the road just, you know, saying hello to everyone. And really, the most important thing is just to remember to allow them the space to feel however they feel, and to be present for them, maybe even more than you typically would have been.

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Studying sexual health and well-being

Anxiety and worry have been in ample supply since the pandemic struck, which can negatively affect any relationship.

For many, one IU study found, social distancing and feeling at risk of infection contributed to feelings of depression and loneliness, which are associated with reduced bonding behaviors and decreased partnered sexual behaviors.

The study was conducted by Devon Hensel, associate research professor of pediatrics at the IU School of Medicine, and Debby Herbenick, professor in sexual and reproductive health at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.

"Better understanding of how real-life pandemic management–such as child care, mental health challenges, and worries about getting sick–impacts solo and partnered sex aids professionals in helping people tailor solutions to any sexual challenges they may have," Hensel says.