UArizona Researchers Create Toolkit for Talking to Kids about Coronavirus

Mar 23, 2020

A team of University of Arizona researchers has created a toolkit for parents, teachers and school administrators to reference before talking to their kids about coronavirus.

The initiative was led by stress and sleep expert Patricia Haynes, PhD, an associate professor in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and clinical psychologist for the Tucson Fire Department. She realized there was a demand for this resource after a conversation with her own daughter.

"My daughter came home with a cold, and she asked if she had coronavirus and if she was going to die," Dr. Haynes said. "Kids are getting media messages whether or not we're aware, and parents are having a lot of alarming conversations at home with unintentional consequences. I realized we needed a guide to help adults have factual conversations with kids so that they understand what's going on and don't feel scared."

Patricia Haynes, PhD, CBSM, an associate professor in the Department of Health Promotion SciencesFor parents, the toolkit offers a kids' comic book exploring coronavirus, stress reduction tips, a step-by-step guide on talking with kids, videos on how to prevent the spread of the virus and information on what to do if you think you might have COVID-19.

For teachers, it has resources such as discussion guides for grades K-5 students, a comic strip explaining the virus and more.

School administrators will find preparedness guidelines, considerations for school closures and suggestions for how to handle food during a pandemic, among other resources.

Dr. Haynes' team created many of the resources in the toolkit. Others came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, the National Association of School Psychologists, National Public Radio and more.

"I'm a teacher and an interventionist, so I knew that one place to find helpful resources might be useful to teachers, as well as community agencies," she said.

Haynes offered additional suggestions for managing coronavirus communication with children.

A coronavirus comic for kids is one of the resources found in the toolkit. (Illustration: Malaka Gharib/NPR)

"The biggest thing, first of all, is limiting the amount of media, so that coronavirus is not a 24/7 discussion in your house," Dr. Haynes said. "I understand wanting to stay informed, but make sure there's a balance. You don't want your entire day to be focused on coronavirus."

She also stresses balanced and practical thinking about the threat of the virus.

"It's easy to go one way or the other. It's easy to downplay. You might think it's like influenza, but it's also easy to go to the other extreme and think this is the end of the world," Dr. Haynes said. "Try and keep your thoughts more balanced. Acknowledge that this is an unpracticed experience, and it makes sense that we'd feel anxious about what's going on. Tell yourself, 'I make the best decisions I can by paying attention to what is in my control and live by the values that are important to me, like being a good parent or neighbor.'"

Haynes and her team will continue to update the toolkit. One thing she hopes to add is information on how to talk to teenagers.

"I think it's been hard on a lot of teens," she said. During social distancing, they might feel cut off from friends who are such a big part of their lives at this age. It's also easy for teens to overuse media on phones or digital devices. "I would suggest family meetings. If you don't have those, then look for opportunities to have a conversation to connect with teens, maybe focusing on the activities that they enjoy."

Other faculty, staff and students who helped build the toolkit include Candace Mayer, Dasy Resendiz, Maiya Block, Namoonga Mantina, Alexis Wait, Cody Welty, Joe Russo, Lynn Gerald, Joe Gerald and Velia Nunos, with graphic design from Paul Akmajian at the UArizona Center for Rural Health.

Dr. Haynes' research areas include: cognitive behavioral therapy, social and biological circadian rhythms, stressful life events, and cross-disciplinary models of mood dysregulation. Her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Defense, American Sleep Medicine Foundation, and Institute for Mental Health Research. She received her doctorate from the University of California, San Diego/San Diego State University Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology. She is one of 200 providers nationwide and one of only four in Arizona with a certification in behavioral sleep medicine from the American Board of Sleep Medicine.

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NOTE: Photos and illustrations provided upon request.

The above article was written by Mikayla Mace and appeared first on the UA News website.

About the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health
Established in 2000, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is the first nationally accredited college of public health in the Southwest. Today the college remains the only accredited college of public health in the state of Arizona, with campuses in Tucson and Phoenix. The college enrolls more than 1,100 students per year across degree programs at the bachelor's degree, master's degree and doctoral levels. Through research, education and community engagement, the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health continues to find solutions to public health problems in Arizona, the Southwest and globally. For more information: publichealth.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter).

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences
The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. UArizona Health Sciences includes the Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona, the greater Southwest and around the world to provide next-generation education, research and outreach. A major economic engine, Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 4,000 students and 900 faculty members, and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram).

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