It’s important to address the anxiety of children over the coronavirus, church leaders agree. Small children miss personal contact with their friends, while some teenagers wonder about more existential issues.
“Multiple of the youth have brought up about, ‘Is this the end of days?’” said Matt Vollmar, contemporary worship coordinator and youth minister at Saint Matthew United Methodist Church in Belleville, Illinois. “I didn’t assume this was where they would go. … So we clearly need to talk about it.”
Vollmar said he tells the teens to read about the signs of the end times in Luke 21 in the Bible.
He additionally advises them to “work on your relationship with God so if God comes back tomorrow, you’re ready to go. But work for him as if he’s coming back in a thousand years. So there’s still work to be done.”
Younger children also have a lot of anxiety around COVID-19, said the Rev. Kathy Pittenger, children’s initiative coordinator for the Michigan Conference.
“For elementary-age school kids (it’s important to) explain what’s happening and why social distancing is important, because that’s a hard thing for kids to understand,” Pittenger said.
She said it’s also essential for kids to have some kind of a schedule.
“It can be a flexible schedule, but something that kids know is coming every day. Exercise is also important, whether that be outside if they are able to, or inside their house.”
Parents should also limit the news that children hear or watch on television and avoid making promises about when the crisis will end, Pittenger said.
“As adults, we can get stuck on having the news on 24-7,” she said. “Not only can that be anxiety producing for us as adults, but it can be very stressful for children.”
Pittenger is curating a webpage for the Michigan Conference to help parents through the crisis.
“There are so many resources that people are feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed,” she said. “So I’m putting together some vetted resources that people can trust and can use.”
One way churches are keeping in touch with children is by posting videos of pastors or youth leaders reading books on Facebook and YouTube.
St. Paul & St. Andrew United Methodist Church in New York City posted a video of the Rev. Lea Matthews, associate pastor, reading “Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes. Saint Matthew United Methodist Church in Belleville, Illinois, posted Lindsay Vollmar, director of children's ministries and the wife of Matt Vollmar, reading “Hooray! It’s a Duck Day!” by Jennifer Maze Brown. Lindsay Vollmar is joined by “Little Mattie,” a “Sesame Street”-like puppet voiced by Matt Vollmar.
“Wemberly Worried” is about keeping worrying in check, while “Hooray! It’s a Duck Day!” speaks to the boredom of not being able to leave the house.
“I had a little girl from our children’s ministry that called, and she just wanted to check to make sure I was OK because they didn’t get to come to church,” Lindsay Vollmar said. “And so we just started thinking about how we can connect with the kids and the youth in the ministry.”
Normally, Lindsay Vollmar reads a story to preschoolers before their Sunday school class starts. “So I thought (reading a story) would be normal to them,” she said. “They could see my face.”
They plan to post two stories a week while the crisis continues.
Parents can help college students deal with the impact of COVID-19, too, especially those who were forced to clear out of their campuses on short notice.
“My daughter (Eloise) had a very sudden change in plans for her academic year,” said the Rev. Christine Hides, a United Methodist deacon and director of Christian education at Kenilworth Union Church in Kenilworth, Illinois. “Letting her be sad and disappointed and upset about the unexpected change in plans, I think, has been most important.”
Eloise had less than 12 hours to pack and find storage for her belongings before flying home to Illinois from California, where she is a student at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. Since she’s been home, Christine Hides has tried to “focus on the positive, that we are safe and we’re together. There are unexpected gifts in this new reality that we’re living in.”
At the church, Hides is thinking ahead to things she had never considered before, such as a drive-in Easter service or facilitating children seeing their friends through video conferencing.
“Even if we could drive (children) to a parking lot and be with each other with the windows up, maybe that’s the kind of thing that we’ll need,” she said.
“I think that this is a marathon, not a sprint. As the weeks drag on, I think the financial implications for families will be greater, and I think that the social isolation will be even harder to take,” Hides said.