The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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When the News Is Scary: 4 Ways to Support Children During the Coronavirus Outbreak

child washing hands with soap and waterAs the mother of four children ranging in age from 5 to 17, I think I’ve heard it all when it comes to the coronavirus COVID-19: every rumor and misunderstanding that gets shared at school and on social media about where it came from and how it spreads. In gently redirecting my children toward the truth--and helping them manage their well-founded anxiety--I’ve leaned on my knowledge of social and emotional learning (SEL).

As the director of Open Circle, an evidence-based SEL program for school-age children, I know that it’s important to help kids develop skills to recognize and manage their emotions. It’s also important for them to feel safe and cared for, especially in the midst of a crisis. Effective SEL strengthens our ability to understand, name, and manage our emotions all while building healthy relationships with others that foster increased empathy and community.

Here are a few things I’ve kept in mind while having conversations with my children about COVID-19, which might be helpful to anyone who has similar conversations with kids in their lives--whether their families or those they interact with in a professional capacity.

Children take their emotional cues from adults.

Kids look to us for how to react to a crisis, so it’s critical that we mind our words and actions when in their presence. We should convey calm and compassion, and focus on the facts available. Familiarizing ourselves with what’s known about COVID-19 and how it spreads allows us to ensure we’re conveying factual information to the children around us. Displaying an overly anxious or fearful affect is “contagious,” and causes children, in turn, to become overly anxious and fearful. We need to remain calm and reassuring as much as possible--and to lean on the other adults within our communities when we need to share our own fears and concerns.

“Othering” behavior and speech must be interrupted.

An unfortunate by-product of this scare has been the othering of Asian American communities, which has led many Chinese restaurants and businesses to lose customers. I’ve heard children say things like “Chinese people caused this” or other disparaging remarks. It’s important for adults to immediately and firmly interrupt these types of comments and othering behavior.

Calm breathing and mindful pauses can help.

At Open Circle, one of the threads woven throughout our curriculum is calm breathing and mindfulness. Teaching children to take three slow, deep breaths or a one-minute mindful pause throughout the day helps them develop the tools to cope when they’re feeling anxious.

It’s OK to say you don’t know.

None of us have all the answers to questions children may ask about COVID-19, and that’s OK. Sometimes these questions do have an answer, and we can find it for them by utilizing the resources available to us: our doctors, school nurses, reputable online sources. Some questions simply can’t be answered with any definitiveness. In those cases, all we can do is help children understand that life comes with gray areas, and not all questions have a straightforward answer. What’s most important is for them to understand that the adults in their lives--whether at school or at home--will be there to protect and assist them, no matter what. As Mr. Rogers’ mother used to say, when there’s a crisis, “look for the helpers.” Knowing that there will always be helpers may go a long way toward relieving children’s worry.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester, M.A., CAGS, is the director of Open Circle, an action program of the Wellesley Centers for Women that equips elementary schools with evidence-based curriculum and training to improve school climate and teach children essential social and emotional skills.

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Guest — Yashi srivastava
It is very important to follow these mindful steps and each and every person should help each other to be safe by the correct ways... Read More
Monday, 16 March 2020 01:20
Guest — Mark Philip
WHAT TO DO IF THERE IS A RISK OF EXPOSURE TO THE VIRUS? • Respect the incubation period and stay in quarantine, symptoms can take ... Read More
Monday, 23 March 2020 04:17
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In India, Action to End Child Marriage Has a Long Way to Go

The Supreme Court of India ruled last week that sex with one’s wife under 18 years of age will be deemed as rape for which the husband can face up to 10 years of imprisonment. This judgement, being hailed as “landmark” by Indian media, irons out a major discrepancy in the Indian law: while the age of consent for women in India is 18, an exception in the Indian penal code allowed men to have sex with their wives between 15-18 years of age regardless of their consent (Indian law does not acknowledge marital rape).

While it is indeed a laudable step on part of the Indian judiciary that called out the “artificial distinction” between a married girl child and an unmarried girl child to be “arbitrary and discriminatory”, the judgement puts the spotlight on the issue of child marriage itself. A recent study conducted by IndiaSpend -- a journalism non-profit -- found that nearly 12 million Indian children are married before the age of 10, a mind-boggling figure that shows that child marriage continues to be a real and persistent threat in the country. We also know that early marriage can be disastrous for a girl’s sexual and reproductive health. According to Girls Not Brides, complication in pregnancy and childbirth is the leading cause of death in girls aged 15-19 globally. Considering that, this indeed is a landmark judgement which will now present a barrier to men wanting to consummate their marriages with their underage brides. However, the moment one begins to think about the wider socio-cultural context that child marriages take place in, the judgement sounds wildly optimistic and impracticable.

It is common knowledge that there is a link between lower levels of education and early marriage. The IndiaSpend research also found that as many as 5.4 million married under the age of 10 were illiterate, and 80 percent of them were female. Given that we are talking of a largely illiterate female population that is subjected to child marriage, what are the chances of them seeking legal recourse when faced with the prospect of forced consummation of marriage? Child marriage is also very often a discreet affair, one that is deeply entrenched in patriarchal values and traditions, and wary of the State machinery. Given how little agency a girl child has in a marriage, it is highly unlikely that she will report her husband for having sex with her. What, then, is the way forward? The obvious answer is education. It has always been known that educating girls and boys is one of the most effective ways of eradicating child marriage. Even the government of India acknowledged it when it said that child marriage is a reality in India due to economic and educational inequalities. However, what our government really meant was that given that child marriage is a reality, we might as well allow the consummation of marriage before the legal age of consent because “the institution of marriage must be protected”.

The government’s paranoia regarding the institution of marriage, as if it were more endangered than the Bengal tiger, is preposterous. And I don’t mean to be facetious about this. The government’s delusion is both amusing and scary; it has used this defence not only to argue for lower age of consent in child marriages but also against criminalizing marital rape which is an ongoing battle in the courts. In fact, in defence of not criminalizing marital rape, the government said that India could not follow the lead of western countries as “India has its own unique problems due to uneven literacy, economic and social diversity." Granted that India is an extremely complex terrain for the implementation of any such law, it cannot be used as an excuse for maintaining the status quo. Besides, it is not the government’s job to uphold the institution of marriage and what they call the Indian family system, based on the assumption that sexual consent is implicit in marriage and a nod to women’s autonomy will destabilize the institution. This is important because unless the government gets its priorities right, it will not be able to focus on levelling the “uneven” playing field that it acknowledges as the cause of social problems, also required for the effective implementation of women-friendly laws.

Nandita DuttaNandita Dutta is deputy manager at the Centre for Studies in Gender and Sexuality (CSGS) at Ashoka University in India. CSGS is a partner of the Wellesley Centers for Women.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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