Coronavirus: Ten Tips For Helping Your Children Cope
COVID-19 (the coronavirus) has impacted us all in different ways. This is a time of uncertainty, and children are significantly impacted by this fear of uncertainty. Because you may have fears yourself, it can be particularly difficult to know how to keep your children calm during this crisis. Here are some tips to help guide your children through this challenging time.
1. Be cautious about the news your children see and hear
News programs are full of expert advice and helpful tips, but these programs may also include personal opinions, exaggerations, horror stories, and even dangerously incorrect information. This is especially true for social media posts. Remember that your children may not be able to distinguish fact from opinion as easily as an adult. It is important to limit exposure to news and social media, if possible, as well as to have conversations about how to approach information. For example, teach your children about trustworthy news sources and less trustworthy sources.
2. Validate feelings
Children may be struggling as they see their favorite restaurants shutting down or with the loss of birthday parties and other gatherings. For example, high school students may be heartbroken about missing graduation ceremonies. As an adult, it may be tempting to minimize these feelings when the focus should be on prioritizing safety or making sure there is enough to eat at home. However, it is important to remember that these feelings are valid. Empathize with your children; reassure them that you understand, and recognize that it is okay for you to have similar feelings about lost opportunities. Although you want to emphasize safety as a top priority, feeling disappointed is an understandable reaction to cancellations.
3. Encourage open communication
Your children will probably have many questions and fears. Try to be open and honest (in an age-appropriate way). Remind your children that they can always come to you when they’re scared or confused. Your children may look to you as a fountain of knowledge during a time of confusion, so it will be important to calmly make yourself available for these questions. It is also important to be honest about when you don’t know the answers. Uncertainty is uncomfortable for us all, and this may be a time to show your children that even you do not always have all the answers. However, whether you know the answers or not, you can remind them you understand their feelings and will help them to get through this.
4. Advise your children to think of others
The coronavirus is an illness that is currently not impacting children in a severe way. Although children and parents are likely comforted by this, it is important to use this time as an opportunity to teach children about thinking of others. For example, children may be frustrated by the cancellation of activities they enjoy when the virus will likely not harm them. Gently remind them that their actions might affect others. This is a time when we take action as individuals to protect the group.
5. Explain “sensible” choices
Remind your children that this is a time for sensible choices, but not a time to stop living. Explain the concept of “social distancing,” which limits physical interactions (like hugs) and limits large social gatherings. Children may interpret instructions literally, so they may fear going to the store or taking a walk down the block. It is appropriate to be cautious, but this caution should not restrict the ability to provide sensible levels of exposure to the world.
6. Create a routine
Children may currently lack routine and structure due to the cancellation of school, sports, and other scheduled activities. Children benefit from a predictable routine, so you may want to create a more understandable routine within the home. For instance, if your children are required to complete online assignments, it may be helpful to set “math hour” or “reading hour” to build some expected sameness into their days. Remember, though, that overscheduling or overworking can lead to anxiety as well. Therefore, if you're going to set up a schedule, make sure to include time for breaks and fun activities to help break up the day.
7. Plan for at-home fun
During this time, we are limited in events and activities that we can attend outside the home. An increased amount of time at home may lead to boredom and restlessness. Try to plan fun activities that can work within these limits. Movie nights, board games, and baking together are some possible ideas, but consider what unique ideas might work best for your family.
8. Practice relaxing activities/relaxation techniques with your children
Adults and children could all benefit from practicing relaxation techniques and calming activities during times of stress. Taking some family time to practice yoga, calming crafts, or even deep breathing exercises may help the family bond together, as well as calm anxiety. Scheduling some time each day for relaxation time could also help provide some structure that may be lacking during this uncertain time period.
9. Leave room for laughter
Laughter, silliness and fun are important parts of your family life. When a serious event occurs, it can be challenging to focus on the lighter parts of your world. Show your children that they can take precautions seriously while also joking around and having fun together. While scheduling time for homework and structured relaxation activities, remember that it is okay to have time to fool around and let your child be a child.
10. Remind your children that life will return to normal
When everything is up in the air, it can feel like life will never calm down. Children may wonder if they will ever see their friends again or if schools will remain shut down forever. With no date in mind, the uncertainty can make anyone fear that we will never be past this. Try to reassure your children that this is temporary. Although we may not know when life will return to normal, we are taking all necessary steps to make sure that we will be able to safely practice our old routines again.
It may be helpful to explain that we have faced epidemics and pandemics before. As a nation and a world, we have worked to fight diseases, find cures and treatments, and many of us have lived through health crises before. Although this is an understandably scary time for children (and adults), remind them that we have faced these struggles before and that we have experts working hard to manage these events and get things back to normal. This message can be encouraging for children searching for normalcy
The coronavirus is having a drastic impact on the way we all live our lives. Although we do not have control of every way in which this impacts our world, there are ways for parents to help ease their families through the uncertainty. Utilizing some of these tips may help to bring some peace and normalcy back into your home.
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