Y’all, things are weird. I have felt a whirlwind of emotions in response to the coronavirus and quarantine (panic, grief, stress, anxiety). Parents are being hit tenfold because they’re having to worry about their own lives as well as their children’s.
First, I want to give kudos to parents who are now working from home as well as homeschooling! Your hands are full, and I can’t imagine the array of emotions you must be feeling.
Kids are feeling these things, too. They’re grieving the loss of friendships and routine. They’re feeling confused at all the changes. They sense their caregivers’ tension. I wanted to give you some tips on managing your anxiety as well as theirs, and some activity ideas to do at home!
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF FIRST. If you are stressed or anxious, talk with a friend, your partner, or an adult family member. Air out your own feelings before trying to engage with your child about their feelings.
This can be a time parents teach kids coping skills. How do you cope? Invite your kids to cope with you; let them see how you are managing your own anxiety. You will be teaching them skills they will have for the rest of their lives. For example:
Ask them what they know. Use this as an opportunity to correct any misinformation they may have heard about COVID-19. Do they think everyone who gets it dies? Help them understand the truth.
Ask kids what they need to feel safe or to feel better. If they’re worried about the loss of friendships, help them set up play dates via video. When they express they miss someone, encourage them to write a letter or make a card and place it in the mailbox. Help them stay connected while they are separated from their friends. If they’re worried about getting sick or someone they love getting sick, teach them how to keep themselves and others safe (coughing into their arm, washing their hands, staying home, etc.)
Focus on what we can control. This is for both kids and parents. We can’t control schools and businesses being shut down. We can’t control when it will end either. If a birthday party or event is being postponed, don’t make promises you can’t keep. No one knows when it can be rescheduled, so say something like, “I’m not sure when we can have your birthday party. I wonder how we can celebrate at home with the family.”
Don’t lie! Kids are smart. They already know something weird is going on. They hear adults talking, they sense the tension and stress, they aren’t going to school, parents aren’t going to work, etc. Understanding what is going on will help ease their anxiety. Often when kids recognize something is off, they will create their own explanations for why. Sometimes their own explanations are even scarier than the truth!
Share what is developmentally appropriate to share. This can be hard to gauge because all children grow and mature differently. A good rule of thumb is if they’re asking the questions, they’re ready for the answers. You don’t have to volunteer extra information or give them more than they’re asking for. If you don’t know all the answers, that’s okay. Being there for them is the most important part.
Reassure them. Children are egocentric, meaning they think everything revolves around them. Hearing about the coronavirus, they are more likely to think they will definitely get it. Help them understand how it is transmitted and how to keep themselves safe.
Create schedules with your kids. We’re all used to our schedules, and there is comfort in routine and structure. Work with your child to create schedules for the weekdays and weekends.
Try to minimize screen time to 2-3 hours per day. A few ways to enrich screen time:
Have kids pick out meals or a recipe they want to make. Have them take the lead on measuring. For older kids, give them the task of “doubling the recipe.”
Have kids make meals and snacks for the entire family. Younger kids can make PB&J sandwiches or get everyone a snack and water. Older kids can make entire meals!
Spring cleaning! Assign every family member chores and everyone can work together to clean the space.
Encourage independent and expressive play:
If you need support during this time, I am here! I have been fervently working to gather therapeutic activities I can do with children and families via Telehealth. Please reach out and schedule an intake for you, your child, or the entire family.