By Shannon Loehrlein, Youth First, Inc.
COVID-19 has led us into uncharted territory. Never before have schools across the country closed because of a pandemic.
As adults we may be worried about the future. How long will schools and businesses remain closed? We may also be worried about how closures will affect our monthly bills, paychecks, and childcare.
Children are worried too, but they worry about different things. Children are concerned about missing school, completing virtual assignments, and missed play time with friends. My 5-year old has been asking when she can go back to school to be with friends.
As adults, we don’t know the answers to a lot of these questions, but there are some things we can do to help manage our children’s fears. Below are some tips for parents and caregivers.
- First, manage your own anxiety about the situation. As parents we are naturally anxious about this situation. This is a good opportunity to help our child co-regulate. If we can manage our own emotions, then our children will see positive coping skills in action.
- Let your child know it’s okay to talk through their emotions. Allow them to ask questions, but don’t feel like you must have an answer to all of their questions. Listening is powerful. Sometimes all we can do is say, “I can understand why you feel that way.” Children need to feel heard and validated.
- Limit your child’s exposure to news. This is also helpful for adults. In the 24-hour news cycle it can be tempting to watch the news all day. It is important to stay informed but not oversaturated. Watching too much news can instill fear and anxiety in children.
- Keep a schedule. Many parents are being forced to either work from home or find emergency daycare placement with family or friends during this time. Kids thrive on a schedule, and their usual routine has been disrupted. Kids of all ages – and even adults – do not do as well when they are off of their normal schedule. So create a new schedule, and try to organize your child’s day during typical school hours. You can find free examples of schedules online.
- Make sure you limit digital time. Although students have virtual learning built into their day, make sure you weave in play time and non-digital time throughout the day. Excessive use of electronics can increase anxiety, so make sure your child takes breaks from electronics during the day.
- Encourage outdoor play. Kids are used to outdoor recess. Even if the weather forecast is not ideal, encourage kids to go outdoors in between the rain showers. They need to be able to run around and play to release energy and stress.
- Teach your kids coping skills. Exercise, belly breathing, and talking about their feelings are going to be really important during this time. Also encourage your children (especially teenagers) to reach out to their friends by phone and text. For teenagers, relationships with peers are very important.
- Lastly, use this time to reconnect as a family. Normally our busy schedules leave us little quality time with family. Use this time to play board games, have family meals, and connect.