-Right now, we are all feeling a variety of feelings as we live through a quarantine and global pandemic. Our children are feelings lots of ways as well. VALIDATE their feelings of grief, fear, anger, boredom, sadness, and anxiety. Say supportive, validating statements to them like, “I know this is scary because we don’t know when things will go back to normal, but I am here to help you through this”, “I know it is hard to not be around your friends or participating in activities you love, and I miss them too”, or “It is okay to be upset during this time”. They are missing out on so much and letting them know we understand how hard this is will help them feel more supported.
-REASSURE them. This is hard and we don’t have the answers our children may be asking us. We can’t tell them when things will be “normal”, and we can’t even tell them what it will look like because no one knows. Something important to remember is that a lot of anxiety comes from uncertainty and we are in the biggest time of uncertainty we have ever known. It is hard not to be able to give our children peace of mind by telling them when this will end but what we can do is REASSURE them they are safe. We can REASSURE them that very smart people are working day and night to figure this out. We can REASSURE them that they are loved and will be taken care of. We can REASSURE them that we are there to listen to them when they are feeling upset. We can REASSURE them that at some point they won’t need to stay home all the time. There is an end, we just don’t know when it will be.
-Keep some type of ROUTINE in place. This will look different for every family and child but finding what works and sticking to it will help your child have some structure to their day to feel more balanced. It doesn’t have to be a strict schedule but building in time for schoolwork, connecting with friends virtually, getting outside, technology time and technology breaks, family time, etc. is important.
-Have OPEN ENDED conversations with your kids about how they are feeling and make sure that you are actively listening to them without the distraction of a phone, work, or even other family members. Spend alone time with each child away from others if possible. You can go for a walk or a drive and that way they really feel like they are being heard and that you understand how they are feeling.
-We are all experiencing a variety of feelings related to this quarantine and pandemic and we are all grieving for what has been lost. There are 5 stages of GRIEF-denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Your child may be at any one of these stages and they can go back and forth between them especially as things continue to change. One example is that summer trips and camps are starting to be cancelled. This is especially hard for kids who are in any transition years-like Pre-k, 5th grade, 8th grade, and 12th grade. They are missing so many important things like end of the year parties, field day, prom, class trips, graduations, performances or sports they have worked so hard for, getting their driver’s license, going on college tours, etc. And above all, they are missing having fun with their peers and friends.
-Help them come up with a list of COPING SKILLS to help them through this time of uncertainty and worry. This could be making art, listening to music, being outside, writing in a journal, riding their bike, taking a walk, taking a calming bath, watching a funny tv show or movie, singing, dancing, cuddling with a pet, connecting with friends virtually, or practicing mindfulness exercises like yoga and deep breathing exercises. There are a variety of calming apps available for kids such as CALM, Stop Breathe and Think Kids, and Headspace.
-MODEL healthy coping skills for your kids. It is important that they know they are not the only ones feeling anxious or upset about things and it helps them to see you using tools to help when you are having a hard time. An example of this might be that you are frustrated that their summer camp is closed, and you are sad they are missing this opportunity. Talking to your kids about how you feel and how they feel helps them feel like they are not alone. It can also generate important discussions. Seeing you take deep breaths or go for a walk will help them see how these things can help them cope with all the feelings they are experiencing. Our kids are picking up on our increased stress and fear. It’s okay to let our kids see us upset and worried, but it is crucial for them to see us cope with those feelings in a healthy way.
-We are all feeling out of control during this time and our kids certainly are as well. It is helpful to point out to them all the things they can still CONTROL even with all the uncertainty going on. It is better to focus on what we can control rather than what we can’t. An example is that we can’t control that school has been canceled for the rest of the year. But we can control continuing to do schoolwork and attending class zoom sessions to stay connected with our teacher and classmates. Another example is that we can’t control not being able to hang out with our friends in real life. But we can control planning virtual play dates with them on zoom or staying in contact with friends via apps like Facetime or Facebook’s Messenger Kids, etc. Help them feel more in control by giving them CHOICES at home. It can even be something small like what to have for dinner, what movie to watch, or which game to play.
-Expect to see a REGRESSION in certain emotions or behaviors or even milestones with little ones such as potty training or sleeping in their own room. Our kids are dealing with something that they really can’t fully grasp, and they are longing for their routines, friends, activities, and fun. They don’t know how to manage the emotions and fear they are experiencing, and this will translate into escalated emotions and behaviors, etc. A helpful strategy to remember is that:
“Beneath every behavior is a FEELING. And beneath each feeling is a NEED. And when we meet that need rather than focus on the behavior, we begin to deal with the cause, not the symptom.” (Ashleigh Warner, 2019)
An example may be that your child has started acting out physically when they are frustrated. They are yelling, slamming their fists on the table, throwing things, etc. They are feeling sad, mad, out of control, confused, anxious and they NEED to be able to process these feelings with you in a calm way. Once the need is met, possibly by having some one on one time with your child to really let them share how they are feeling, they should begin to feel better and act out less.
-If you think your child may need more support through this time, find a therapist who can have VIRTUAL THERAPY SESSIONS with your child. It is important for kids to have an outlet during this time and therapists are learning all kinds of cool and fun ways to help your children through interactive art, activities, and games that help them express their feelings and learn coping skills. If you are worried that your child is depressed or experiencing anxiety, getting professional help is important and can not only help your child, but the whole family as well.