Here we are in another year of seemingly endless pandemic protocols, uncertainty and frustration. On a personal level, I’ve managed to dodge COVID, but have never been as sick in my life with terrible colds, congestion, and general breathing issues. Five COVID tests, all negative, six weeks of not feeling “right,” and here I am. I was reflecting on how frustrated I am as an adult with life right now-work, lack of social life, and family responsibilities, all while generally not feeling well, and, well, ugh! I wondered how our children are feeling? What can we do as adults?
COVID-19 brings with it feelings like anxiety, stress and uncertainty — and they are felt especially strongly by children of all ages. Though all children deal with such emotions in different ways, and of course, at different times, if your child has been faced with school closures, cancelled events or separation from friends, they are going to need to feel loved and supported now more than ever. How can we best support our kids through this mess?
1. Try to remain calm and involved (proactive not reactive)
Talk with your kids about the latest information about COVID. Help them understand how they can help keep themselves safe and healthy. More importantly, tell them that if they begin to feel something like a cold, they don’t need to feel terrified, just tell someone. Reassure your children that it’s ok to talk, even if they’re just worries about “stuff!”
As adults, we can empathize with the fact that our children are feeling nervous and worried about COVID. Reassure them, it’s generally mild for young people. Another action step parents can do is actually help them look outward. So to say to them, “Listen, I know you’re feeling really anxious about catching coronavirus, but part of why we’re asking you to do all these things — to wash your hands, to stay home — is that that’s also how we take care of members of our community. We think about the people around us, too.”
2. Stick to a routine
This is nothing new!Whether in a pandemic or not, children need structure. What we’re all having to do is invent entirely new structures to get through the day. Sometimes on the fly! If at all possible, try to make a schedule for the day. Include playtime where a kid can get on their phone and connect with their friends, but it also should have technology-free time and time set aside to help around the house. What do we value and we need to build a structure that reflects that. It will be a great relief to our kids to have a sense of a predictable day, work and play included.
Get your kids involved in creating it. There is no reason that children 10 and 11 or older, cannot participate. You may need to give ideas of what to include, but let them run with it. It helps with buy in. When it comes to younger children, structure their day so that all of the things that need to, get done before the fun stuff: schoolwork and all of their chores. Try it at the start of the day, or a bit later. For parents who are not able to supervise their children during the day, explore with your caretaker ways to create a structure that works best.
3. Emotions are ok
With school closures come cancelled school plays, concerts, sports matches and activities that children are deeply disappointed about missing out on because of COVID-19. Feelings are normal and sadness is a feeling. Don’t minimize how they feel or how much these losses hurt our kids. Of course, measured against our adult life experiences, these seem minimal, but for them, it’s huge and seemingly keeps going! When in doubt-empathy!
4. Create opportunities to forget
Watch you kids. They will give you all the clues you need to most effectively help them and support them. Think about balancing talking about feelings with finding distractions. Allow distractions when kids need relief from feeling very upset. Maybe it’s a game night, bake cookies, go for a walk or watch a movie. Don’t feel bad allowing for some leeway with teens and their screens, but don’t give them cart blanche access.
5. Watch your own behavior
As I said, we’re anxious too! Parents are stressed, fed up, and tired. Our best efforts need to be made managing our feelings in our time and not overshare with the kids. After all, our children will take emotional cues from us. That may mean containing emotions, which may be hard at times. Our children rely on their parents to provide a sense of safety and security.