Many of our children have been hearing about the coronavirus for a few weeks. Now that schools are closed, there is no escaping conversation around the pandemic.
Additionally, the break in predictable routines around school, extracurricular activities and play dates has created new challenges in parenting. Feelings of stress and anxiety may be heightened for both parents and children. Here are some tips for coping during this time:
Be available when your child asks questions. Keep answers concise and developmentally appropriate. Be honest, but only explain what he needs to know.
Focus on what he can control versus what he cannot. For example, washing hands, staying home, avoiding handshakes and high-fives, coughing into his sleeve and avoiding large crowds are all things he can do at this time to keep himself and others safe.
Help your child shift from “what if” to “what is.” Know that anxiety can come and go, and these conversations may need to continually occur.
Respond with empathy instead of excessive reassurance. Say, “It sounds like you’re feeling worried. Luckily, there are things we can do to help us feel better, like reminding myself that I am healthy right now or taking deep breaths.”
Kids thrive on routine, and predictability can provide comfort. Consider writing a daily schedule that also includes fun activities and breaks.
LIMIT EXPOSURE TO INFORMATION
In our current lives, we are inundated with information. We have 24 hours a day news channels, social media, emails and text messages updating us minute by minute regarding world events. Turn off what you can when children are around.
Children pick up on what they hear, and the tone of reporters or world leaders can feel scary or threatening. Hearing words like “pandemic” and “outbreak” may trigger their anxiety.
Most people are having some level of anxiety at this time. Consider utilizing your own coping strategies to manage yours. Children pick up on our worries, and they look to adults to provide safety and security.
Finding strategies to reduce your anxiety will not only help calm the tone in your home, but will also model approaches she can use to help reduce her anxiety.
Instead of sharing all of your worries, let your child know that you are focusing on the facts and what can be controlled.
If you or you children do not already have a consistent mindfulness practice, this is a great time to start. There are apps and videos with guided meditation for children. Encourage deep breathing exercises to calm anxiety. Look up muscle relaxation exercises where one gradually tenses up their muscles then releases them. Offer journaling or coloring options.
Some children like to release anxious feelings through exercise or dancing.
Figuring out how to manage your own anxiety, support your child through theirs, be socially isolated while having to fill the role of classroom teacher is daunting. You do not have to have it all figured out, and you do not have to do it all “perfectly.”
Limit your own social media use to lessen the bombardment of information, as well as the stress that comes from comparing your own experience to others.
Graziella Simonetti is a parenting coach with Parenting Pals (email@example.com) and works as an early childhood social worker for the New York City Department of Education. She holds an advanced certificate in parent education from Adelphi University and is a NYSPEP credentialed Parenting Educator. Simonetti is a former kindergarten teacher and the mother of a toddler.