BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (KT) – Parents need to not panic and be consumed with fear in the face of the coronavirus to lower the anxiety level of their children, said husband-and-wife therapists Dr. Rick and Kathy Roepke of the Christian Family Institute.
The Kentucky Baptists, who are members of Woodburn Baptist Church, also said incorporating faith into the conversation is a good step to alleviate fears with the unpredictable virus upon us.
“Children are going to sense it whether you’re talking in front of the kids or not,” said Dr. Kathy Roepke. “If parents are worried and full of anxiety, the kids are going to pick up on that. The main thing for parents is to manage their own emotions.”
She said staying calm includes the actions of parents, too.
“If you’re on Twitter 24/7 or watching the news 24/7, or if parents are stockpiling toilet paper or other supplies, just being in a panic, kids are going to have some of that stress, too,” Kathy said. “Most older teenagers have cellphones and access to that (news). Be there to talk about their fears or concerns, things like that, to try to alleviate some of their fears, too.”
Both older and younger children are going to have questions about the coronavirus and how it may affect them or their loved ones, like grandparents who they may hear are in the most high-risk categories. They may not be able to visit their grandparent homes like usual and will ask why.
“That’s a wonderful time to come together to pray for those grandparents, or talk to them by phone or use Facetime,” Dr. Rick Roepke said.
He said they have a tool they use called a Worry Box where you take a shoebox, cut a slit in the lid and decorate the outside of it with Bible verses. Then have Post-it notes available, where they can write concerns about what is bothering them, and have them drop it in the box to cast that worry away by giving it to Jesus.
“There’s something about the ritual of letting it go,” he said. “You do it as a family. Take their concerns, write them out and place them in their box.”
Also, he said, they will be looking at their parents’ response to the situation in relation to faith and trust in God. “Are they seeing us discount God or not go to Him in prayer?” he said.
Keeping children active, especially physically, will relieve stress too, he said. “Going outside, nature hikes, anything where they could get out. It also starts to help with the communication between the parents and the kids.”
Kathy said it’s also an opportunity to minister to others. For example, school age children could write letters or color pictures and mail them to local nursing homes since most care centers are limiting or restricting visitors or possibly even send them to missionaries.
Kathy said she remembered being young and her mother teaching her the first Bible verse she ever memorized. It was Psalms 56:3 (“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”) “There was something I was afraid of – I don’t even remember what – and my mom taught me that verse. This is a good time to find some Bible verses on worry or fear.”
For older teenagers, she said it is good to remind them that one of the best ways to fight fear is with the truth. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”) and John 8:32 (“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”) and Philippians 4:8 (“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”) offer messages about truth.
“Let’s figure out what’s true,” she said. “What do I know to be true about God? Focus on the truth, which is cognitive, versus fear, which is feelings,” she said.
Some physical signs that children are beginning to have anxiety over the scenario are nightmares, bed-wetting, stomach aches and irritability for no reason. “Anything that’s out of the norm,” she said.
“Sometimes kids will be more clingy than usual,” her husband said. “If there’s multiple children in the home there may be an increase in arguments.”
Faith and prayer have a big part to play in helping a child through a crisis period, Rick said.
“Fear always will have you focus on yourself, but faith has us focus on God,” he said. “We kind of take it away from the fear factor and focus on the faith factor. It is all about God. He never leaves or forsakes us. We want to teach them that they will experience this stuff and will experience some fears. How do you cope with that? Everybody deals with fear. What we do with that makes all the difference.
“The one thing that a lot of people fear is the future. What if, what might happen, what’s going to happen when, but God is our banner, He goes before us, He’s already in our future, already in our tomorrow.”
Learn more at christianfamilyinstitute.net
Rick is a Certified Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist and a Certified Christian Marriage & Family Therapist. He has been working in the mental health field since 1983 at various inpatient psychiatric hospitals and has been providing outpatient counseling since 1994. Rick has been married to Dr. Kathy Roepke since 1986, and together they have two children, Emily and Erik. Together, Rick and Kathy founded Christian Family Institute in November 1996.