Published Date: 04/06/20
It’s hard to know exactly how the coronavirus (COVID-19) will affect children’s mental health and well-being.
We know for certain it won’t affect them uniformly. Some children will suffer more long-term impacts than others, either because of their brain chemistry, the home situation they’re in, or because of previous experiences that are triggered by the stay at home isolation measures most state governors have enacted to curb the spread of the virus and flatten the curve to lessen the demand on hospitals. Other children will come out largely unscathed without lasting emotional problems.
While parents are no doubt suffering as well, it’s critical that we support our children’s emotional well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak and help them work through the many emotions they’re experiencing during this confusing and scary time.
By now you’ve surely talked to your children about the coronavirus, and why they can’t go to school or have play dates like they used to. But talking to them once isn’t enough to ensure their mental health is stable and they continue to thrive once life returns to normal.
1. Children’s reactions may change
Much like your own emotions, children’s will vary day-to-day. Some days children may be happy, excited to laugh, play, and snuggle. Others, you might find that your children are cranky or easily frustrated. Children are experiencing a range of emotions and need to be encouraged to feel all of them. Remember that behavior and emotions are not the same thing and children should never be disciplined for feeling emotions.
2. Children need sensitive & responsive caregivers
While this is true always, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, children need their caregivers to be responsive to their needs and respond sensitively and with compassion. That doesn’t mean jump the second your child asks for a snack, but do your best to stay in tune to their emotional needs. They may curl up in your lap more, or their needs may be less obvious. Children may ask for an extra story at bedtime or require more of your attention at inconvenient times. As much as you can, remember that children don’t have a wealth of experience to draw from and you’re their source of comfort. Forgive yourself when you lose it and try to identify your triggers for frustration. Parents are anxious, stressed, and fearful as well, but need to put on a brave face, though it can often be difficult.
3. Physical distancing with social connection
While Zoom happy hours have become a thing for adults, children aren’t necessarily experiencing the same social connections. Young ones don’t have phones to call and text their friends and rely on parents to set up playdates and activities. FaceTime play dates can be great for older preschoolers and while it’s screen time, often children will play games as if they’re in the same room. If your child is too young or isn’t a fan of FaceTime, ask their friends to send videos and photos frequently and call grandparents and family members more often. This will all help with the social connection that can’t take place in-person right now.
4. Provide age-appropriate information
Children absorb more than we often realize. Of course they’re impacted by the sweeping change of being kept at home but remember, they’re hearing you say things like, “Stay safe,” when you’re getting off of phone calls, or listening as you watch the daily press briefings. That doesn’t mean you need to stop doing that, it just means you need to continually talk to your child and give them age-appropriate information on COVID-19. You know your child best - factor in their maturity level, comprehension, and their susceptibility to anxiety and depression when discussing coronavirus with them.
5. Routine, reassurance, & regulation
Children thrive on routines and keeping one can help prevent tantrums and meltdowns. You can even create a schedule together on poster board. Cut out different activities, like meal times, screen time, arts & crafts, and story time, and put them on a poster. You can use velcro if you need your routine to be flexible from day-to-day. Each morning walk your child through the flow of the day and use 2-minute warnings to help with transitions. You may find you need to relax some rules, like giving more screen time, but still regulate what your child does and be consistent from day-to-day. Lastly, reassure children that they’re safe and they’re loved.
6. Keep children busy and engaged
We know - this one’s tough. Parents are working from home and are thrust into a role of having to create engaging activities so they don’t rely on all day screen time. And this comes more easily to some parents than others. All of it should give you new appreciation for your preschools. As much as possible, plan activities in advance (you can add them to your schedule), keep learning play-based, and use your children’s interests to facilitate learning. Check out these 101 activities you can do at home and this article on how to follow your child’s lead to keep learning engaging and fun.
7. Foster independence and give children encouragement
Often children are more capable than we give them credit for. This is a great opportunity to foster independence in children. For example, for preschoolers you may decide to make breakfast foods easily accessible so they can make their own breakfast. It’s okay if they spill - clean it up together and help teach about natural consequences. Work on new skills and encourage children to do things for themself that you typically do for them. Praise their efforts to boost their self-esteem.
8. Emphasize hope and positivity
Our favorite reminder of this comes from none other than Mr. Rogers. He famously said that when he would see something bad happen, his mother would always tell him to look for the helpers. It’s a beautiful sentiment, as we know we can’t shelter children from all bad things, but we can look for the positive aspects. During the COVID-19 outbreak, talk to children about how other countries have been successful in stopping the spread of the virus, talk to them about frontline workers like healthcare professionals, childcare providers, and grocery store employees who are helping others by doing their jobs, and remind them that this time together means extra snuggles and extra family time.
9. Seek professional help for children, if needed
For some children, this experience may be traumatic or a trigger for long-term emotional or mental health struggles. Watch closely for the signs of depression in your children and contact a professional if you believe this is more than a temporary condition caused by COVID-19.
Helping children navigate the many emotions they’re experiencing during the COVID-19 outbreak will have a lasting impact on their wellbeing. Just do your best to provide reassurance, keep children engaged, and foster independence during the coronavirus isolation period and remind yourself and your children that this is a temporary situation that you’ll get through together.
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Source:Some information in this article came from Child Trends