With each passing day, we are faced with more changes to our daily lives due to COVID-19. Most schools have closed and workplaces are urging employees to work remotely. Parents and their children are home together for days on end. It’s a far cry from normal and we are all struggling with this new reality. Being a parent during these times is particularly challenging, as we try to navigate this uncharted territory.
Here are some tips to help you support your children through the COVID-19 crisis.
Validate and Normalize
Kids may express a whole range of responses to learning about COVID-19. It’s important to normalize their reactions, whatever they may be. Some kids may act out, seem irritable, or become sad or anxious, while others may be excited to be home from school. Find a time when your kids are not preoccupied with another activity, and ask them how they are feeling. Reassure them that their emotions are valid and that they will be okay without denying the reality of the situation. And remember, be aware of how you are talking about Covid-19, your kids are always listening and absorbing information
Share information appropriately
We want to give information that is accurate and age appropriate. Be factual but brief. Leave room for questions and tell your children that the conversation is always open. Be mindful about how often and how much detail you share about COVID-19 while your children are around. They are listening and often can misinterpret what is being said. Limit consumption of the news and social media in front of your kids. While it is completely understandable for parents to feel anxious right now, kids feed off of your anxiety and are absorbing what you share. For more suggestions visit the CDC child information website.
Maintain a daily structure
Virus or no virus, establishing and maintaining routines and structure plays an important role in helping children thrive. Kids might equate having time off from school with being on vacation, so gently explain to them the difference. Create a schedule with your children to help them feel a sense of control. Offer reminders before switching to a new activity to help them transition between tasks. Sample schedules can be found online and aim for a balance between academic and play time. They also suggest consistent times for waking up in the morning, bathing, eating, and going to sleep. Make sure you also include exercise, which is particularly important for children’s physical and mental health.
Find opportunities to try new activities
Staying at home with your family for days on end can make anyone want some distance. It is absolutely normal to find it difficult to be in each other’s space all the time. While trying to carve out personal space and time for yourself, which can feel especially difficult, find ways to connect with your loved ones at home by trying new activities you always wanted to do but somehow fell by the wayside. Do art projects, bake and decorate cookies, learn a new game, throw a family dance party, or watch a family movie.
Help kids stay connected
Being social is a key part of regulating how we feel. To help kids stay connected with their friends while stuck at home, we recommend they video chat with their friends and relatives with apps like FaceTime and Skype. Get creative! Create a group video session with your extended family. Have kids do an activity together in their respective homes while connected through a video app. Rediscover snail-mail and have kids write letters to family and friend or send them individualized cards with drawings.
Take care of yourself
As parents, we always want to make sure our children are okay. To do that, we also need to make sure we are taking care of ourselves as well. We’re not effective when we don’t attend to our own needs. Take turns with your significant other so you each get a break and some time for self-care. Also, remember there is no such thing as the perfect parent and we’re all working to adapt to this new reality.
Click here for a list of some more online sites and activities for your children.
Anxiety is the disorder of “what ifs.” It makes it difficult to tolerate uncertainty and the unknown. When we are anxious, we catastrophize, and look for the worst-case scenario. We tend to exaggerate the sense of risk which makes bad situations feel worse. Without the ability to predict the future, anxiety makes us overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening.
Then we’re stuck with fear and emotional discomfort. Anxiety makes you desperate for a solution, so you can feel better. Anxiety makes you overthink, over-plan, and engage in activities that aren’t actually helpful, just so you can feel back in control. We excessively worry, engage in compulsive behaviors and avoid anything that triggers our anxiety, all to feel better. In the short term, it feels like this helps, but ultimately, we are locked in a repetitive cycle of feeling anxious and trying to escape it.
Now enters the Covid-19 pandemic. Life as we know it has been turned upside down and it feels impossible to predict what is to come. As we stop going to work, school, or engaging in our daily routines, the structure of normal life is disrupted and we lose our sense of control. This is the perfect environment for our anxiety to grow. You may have more anxious thoughts: “When will this end? How long will I be home? Do I have the virus? Will I give it to someone else?” You may also engage in anxious behaviors like frequently checking the news, repeatedly checking your temperature, or buying food in unreasonable amounts.
We want to emphasize that it is completely natural to feel worried and scared. After all, anxiety is a survival instinct and can be healthy when it is proportional to the situation. COVID-19 is a threat to our physical, emotional and economic health and we want to be appropriately cautious and responsive. Without a little anxiety, we likely wouldn’t be taking the appropriate steps to combat this virus! That being said, we want to make it appropriate to the situation. Excessive worrying might feel productive, but it is actually harming your emotional well-being, and can interfere with your ability to think clearly and act responsibly during this crisis.
So, what do we do in response to anxiety felt about COVID-19?