Raise your hand if you ever imagined living through a pandemic. Nobody? Right. We’ve all heard about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918, but who could have thought that something similar might happen in our lifetimes? Technology, international travel, and modern conveniences have given us so much freedom, so being in a lockdown or quarantine can be tough.
That being said, most of us adults have developed coping strategies throughout our lives to get through difficult times — but what about our kids? They’re just starting to learn how to regulate their emotions and practice self-care. There’s no doubt that today’s children could emerge more resilient and prepared for the unexpected due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but we need to do all we can to help them get there.
Checking In With Kids
The Child Mind Institute has a whole page devoted to Anxiety and Coping with the Coronavirus on their website. It explains that anxiety in children can look like the following:
- Reassurance-seeking (Are we going to be okay? Is Grandpa going to be okay?)
- Reluctance to separate from parents
- Physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches
- Moodiness and irritability
- Tantrums or meltdowns
- Trouble sleeping
Of course, some of this is to be expected. We are in unprecedented times, and it’s normal to be unsettled. If you notice these behaviors on an ongoing basis, though, they deserve extra attention.
Many of us have been on edge during this pandemic, so it’s not surprising that kids are showing signs of anxiety and even germaphobia. This might be even more pronounced if your child is attending school in-person where they must follow strict safety measures.
One of the most important things you can do is validate how they are feeling. As the Boston Children’s Hospital suggests, let them know that it’s okay to be scared. Kids are so smart and observant — we never know what they’ve seen and/or heard. Encourage them to be open about their concerns and be present by devoting extra time and attention to them.
Isolation & Loneliness
Most kids are used to spending their days in constant interaction with friends, family, neighbors, and teachers. Suddenly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their world has become a lot smaller. Even if they’re attending in-person classes at school, things are very different than they used to be. It’s not surprising, then, that kids are feeling lonely.
As the Mayo Clinic explains, it can be hard for children to communicate their feelings, especially if they feel like their parents are too busy or stressed to listen. To help kids cope, encourage them to spend quality time with friends through video calls, phone calls, texts, and even online gaming (for older children). Also, be sure to provide reassurance at home, regularly check in on how they are doing, and give them extra hugs and cuddles, too.
Parents and families that closely monitored screen time in the past are suddenly having to rely on them for everything from education to social interaction. With this increased access to the internet, it’s important that we make sure they are only viewing content that is age-appropriate.
While you may have to relax your rules about the number of hours spent staring at a screen, it’s important to enforce the ones that will keep them safe. Talk to your kids about the hidden dangers of the internet, keep an eye on what they are doing (review the history at the end of each day!), and offer to discuss anything they may have seen that was confusing or distressing.
In 2020, while there have been alarming stories reported in ERs, the number of child abuse cases have dropped. Meanwhile, experts are more worried than ever. Why? Because the system that helps detect abuse has been shattered by the measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
There is real fear that an “unseen epidemic of abuse is spreading behind locked doors” as the “safeguards designed to protect children have fallen apart.” For example, teachers are often the first to identify and report suspected abuse (including signs of hunger or mistreatment at home), but now they barely see their students at all. In our current situation, it’s hard to know how to address this problem at all.
Protecting Your Child’s Mental Health
It’s going to take more of your time during an incredibly stressful year, but you have to make every effort to protect your child’s mental health. Here are some of the first steps you can take to making this pandemic a little more bearable for kids:
- Focus on topics other than coronavirus
- Highlight aspects of your child’s life that feel normal right now
- Start new traditions, as a weekly family game night
- Talk about and validate feelings whenever they arise
- Sign up for fun Zoom classes like cooking or language lessons
- Enjoy virtual field trips
- Order one new book every week
- Try new hands-on hobbies and activities
- Empower kids who want to help by encouraging them to write letters of support to health care professionals or do virtual check-ins with elderly neighbors
- Seek a daily purpose through reading, creating music, making movies, learning a dance routine, or other activities
- Adopt a pet
- Teach your child how to practice self-care
- Model calm behavior
None of this is easy, but we can get through this by focusing on the positive and learning new ways to foster resilience — for ourselves and our kids. Find ways to make the best of a tough situation, and you’ll show your children the value of finding a silver lining.