Many of us have now been physically isolated within our homes and with our families for at least three weeks.
Some of us also continue to be out in community providing essential services, at the grocery store shelving food, at the cash register, bagging groceries, answering law enforcement calls, fires, other safety calls, and many of us continue to do the essential work of providing health care, checking in patients, assuring and treating people who are sick.
Whatever your situation at this time, the New Normal of the COVID 19 pandemic has brought forth many new circumstances and has probably evoked big emotions in yourself and in those you live with more and more intimately.
So this post is a summary of some of the essential messages for those of us caring for children.
- Just like the adults in their lives, children are surely having many big emotions. With routines and schedule disrupted, far less physical social contact with friends, peers and teachers, and far greater contact with family members, children are undoubtedly having many new and strong feelings. Help children find positive ways to express feelings such as fear, sadness, loneliness, anxiety.. Every child has his or her own way of expressing emotions. Sometimes engaging in a creative activity, such as drawing or telling a story to an adult or stuffed animal, can facilitate this process. Children feel relieved if they can express and communicate their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. Adults can help them identify different feelings and the range of those feelings. Recognizing the difference between uncertainty, anxiety, fear, terror can be helpful and finding ways to move down the intensity ladder can give everyone a sense of control and calm. Noticing and addressing anxiety before it becomes fear is helpful and a good skill to practice.
- Children and youth depend on the adults in their lives to keep them safe and reassured. Keep children close to their parents and family, if considered safe, and avoid separating children and their care givers as much as possible. If a child needs to be separated from his or her primary carer, ensure that appropriate alternative care is provided and that a social worker or equivalent will regularly follow up on the child. Further, ensure that during periods of separation, regular contact with parents and carers is maintained, such as twice-daily scheduled telephone or video calls or other age-appropriate communication (e.g. social media). If your children are with you, answer their questions as honestly and factually as you can. Reassure them that even though the immediate future is uncertain, you, the adults will always be there to look after them, to stay informed, to keep them safe. The children need to be able to trust you to make wise, informed decisions and keep them safe, well and guided.
- Maintain familiar routines in daily life as much as possible, or create new routines, especially when children must stay at home. Eat at regular times if possible and maintain a routine for sleep. Getting sufficient sleep is critical to maintaining a steady mood and strengthening your immune system. Provide engaging age-appropriate activities for children, including activities for their learning, playing, socializing and being outside in nature. Where possible, encourage children to continue to play and socialize with others within the family. This can include taking greater responsibility of pets, brushing, playing with and walking dogs and cats and teaching them tricks, taking care of their food, water and litter boxes. Taking care of anything living that depends on you, including watering a houseplant, tends towards better mental health. Providing a service that others depend on gives a sense of meaning and control.
- During times of stress and crisis, it is common for children to seek more attachment and be more demanding on parents. Discuss COVID-19 with your children in an honest and age-appropriate way. If your children have concerns, addressing them together may ease their anxiety. Children will observe adults’ behaviours and emotions for cues on how to manage their own emotions during difficult times.
- Take care of yourself so that you can take care of your family. Provide good modeling for your children. Take time to read, to journal, to work in the garden, to tend to the house, to rest, to talk with friends. Tell your children you are going to take a break, a ‘time out’ to take care of yourself so you can be reliable and pleasant. Set the timer. Don’t work longer than you have intended. Take a break. Notice what helps you maintain a stable and steady mood.
- Resilience is the ability of an object to return to its original shape after a big change of shape. Imagine a rubber ball. If the rubber has maintained its resiliency, it will regain its shape even after it has been squished or flattened. It is a goal to regain your shape quickly after being squeezed, squashed, flattened. Little disappointments, as well as big and threatening surprises, can bend us out of shape. What helps you return quickly and fully to your original shape, your original mood? Try to expand your tolerance for disappointments, frustrations, surprises. These are uncertain times. Practice returning to your normal mood quickly. Be flexible and resilient. Create some practices that help you maintain your flexibility and commit to them. Just being outside for 15 minutes can change your mood. Get the sky over your head as often as possible, and over your family’s heads. Build time together outside into your daily routine. Nature can heal and reassure.