Dauphin County offers information and resources on easing children's anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic

HARRISBURG, PA (April 21, 2020) – School closings, having to stay at home and other changes and news surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic can be especially frightening for children. The Dauphin County Commissioners want to assure parents and caregivers that resources are available.

"It is important to talk to children, ask how they are feeling and answer questions," said Commissioner George P. Hartwick, III, who oversees the county’s Human Services Department. "Even children who may not say they are scared or show any outward signs may still feel stress. Just letting them know that they are not alone with their concerns can help."

"As a parent, our first instinct may be to shield our children from information, but that can make them more anxious," said board Chairman Jeff Haste. "If we don't give our children age-appropriate information and answer their questions, their imagination will fill in the blanks and may make them more scared."

Childcare experts point to the "Three R's": Reassure children about their safety; maintain a consistent Routine; and help them Regulate their feelings through calming activities such as deep breathing and exercise.

"These are unsettling times for all of us and, as parents, we know how our moods and actions have a direct effect on our kids," said Commissioner Mike Pries. "Balance out the news they may see on television or social media by emphasizing how people are helping each other and focusing on positive stories."

Available for parents and caregivers looking for information and help:

  • Dauphin County Coronavirus information webpage, www.dauphincounty.org/coronavirus: Has links to information from the CDC and other experts on how to talk to children in age-appropriate ways about the pandemic, as well as how to get help if your child needs counseling.
  • Help for those with Medical Assistance (MA): Contact PerformCare, which the county contracts with to link residents with behavioral health services, including consultations via phone (telehealth) or through secure web portals accessible through smart phones and computers. Call 888-722-8646 or visit online http://pa.performcare.org/covid-19/access-of-care
  • Case Management Unit (CMU) of Dauphin County: If you feel your child needs counseling and you have insurance, call your insurer for help. If need assistance coordinating treatment services or are having trouble accessing help, CMU caseworkers are available to everyone -- those with insurance or on Medical Assistance, as well as residents without insurance. Call the CMU at 717-232-8761.
  • Dauphin County Crisis Intervention: A 24/7 emergency mental health service provided by the Dauphin County Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities Program, providing supportive counseling, referral information and other services to those experiencing an emotional crisis or difficulty in coping. Call 717-232-7511.
  • Mental Health TidBIT free e-newsletter: Dauphin County’s TidBIT (Better Informed Together) e-newsletter offers advice and information about various aspects of the mental health system to help parents and caregivers. To subscribe, visit www.dauphincounty.org/tidbit  
    • If your family needs additional assistance:
  • 211: The United Way’s 211 service offers a way to access assistance ranging from help with rent, utilities and financial help to locating food pantries and other services close to you. How to connect: Call 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898-211 for a live, two-way conversation. Online at www.uwp.org/211gethelp.
  • Housing: For assistance with long- and short-term housing needs, contact Christian Churches United HELP Ministries. They also have a COVID-19 Response Fund. How to connect: call (717) 238-2851 or email info@ccughbg.org. Online at www.ccuhbg.org.

The following are eight tips provided by www.ChildTrends.org to help parents and caretakers help children during this challenging time:

  • Make sure that a sensitive and responsible caregiver is present. Research shows that the primary factor in coping with trauma is the presence of a supportive, caring adult.
  • Provide age-appropriate information. Withholding information can be more stressful for children than telling the truth in age-appropriate ways. When children don't receive information, they rely on their imagination to fill in the blanks.
  • Social distancing should not mean social isolation. Find creative ways for children to spend quality time with their caregivers. This could mean playing games, reading books, engaging in video chats, making drawings for their loved one or sending them cards or letters.
  • Create a safe physical and emotional environment by practicing the 3 R's — Reassurance, Routines and Regulations Reassure children about their safety and the safety of loved ones. Maintain a consistent routine as much as possible. Validate children's feelings and help them self-regulate through activities such as deep breathing, mindfulness and exercising.
  • Keep children busy. When children are bored their levels of worry and disruptive behavior may increase. Provide options for safe activities such as drawing, music or games.
  • Increase children's sense of self-control. Let children play an active role in helping themselves, their family and community. For example, they can learn proper handwashing techniques and help their family prepare meals or be present when their parent calls to check on an elderly neighbor.
  • Take care of yourself. Children's well-being depends on the well-being of their parent/caregiver. Find ways to connect with your supports, get enough rest and participate in activities that restore you.
  • Emphasize strength, hope and positivity. Help your children focus on stories about how people are coming together to help others or problem solve during these challenging times.