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Many parents around the world have been adjusting to a new way of living since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Many families are now together all day with no school and parents working from home. With such significant disruptions to their lives, children can have a difficult time understanding and processing why all of these major changes are happening.
Through all of this, it is important to keep a close eye on your child’s mental health. After all, this is a lot for a child to process!
Without a question, your child is going to get lonely. It will be tough not seeing their teachers and playing with their friends every day, and spending so much time with siblings can make tension levels high.
If you are a parent of a younger child, it can be hard to explain what is happening and why. Just keep it simple! No need to scare them, but you can’t hide what is happening. Some children are just naturally anxious and doing your best as a parent to keep them from going overboard is very important. Children may not understand words like pandemic or quarantine, but simple language like “there are lots of germs outside and so everyone is staying home until the germs go away” will help get the message across.
It can also be helpful to give your child tools they can use to feel like they are doing something to keep the virus away, such as teaching them how to wash their hands properly.
If you are a parent of an older child, then simply state the facts and what people are doing to help fix this. Keeping the information as relevant as possible is very important and limiting the amount of conversations on topics that your child cannot control will help ease some anxiety.
Take time to educate yourself about the virus so you can correct any misinformation your child is saying. Children tend to think for a long time about events and their imaginations can run wild, so do your best to keep them on track with what’s really happening.
Despite the isolation, encourage your child to keep in touch with their friends and loved ones from home! Some ways to combat loneliness include writing letters to their friends, sending pictures online, or organizing video chats so they can talk and play together.
John Duffy, a psychologist in Chicago, shared some tips recently on how to respond to your children during these hard times and reactions you should expect as a parent:
- Every child will react differently. Younger kiddos might be more clingy or have some regressions, while older children will probably have mood swings and be irritable. Children who have been diagnosed with problems in the past related to depression and anxiety might find this pandemic very challenging.
- Stay calm, even if you aren’t! There is no need to worry your child more than they need to be so keep it to yourself. Modeling this to your children is an important way to instill resilience. Have a private conversation with your partner about your fears so you can keep yourself in check.
- Establish a flexible routine. This doesn’t have to be a routine that is down to the minute, but having one in place can really preserve mental health.
- Be honest with your child’s questions but no need to go into great detail. This is where your child’s age comes into play. It’s important to inform your child but know they are a huge bundle of feelings. Speak with feeling as it will be easier to make sure your child is on the same page as you. Balance the anxiety with comfort. An example of this could be, “there are a lot of people who are sick, but this is why we are working together to help stop the spread through social distancing.” Reassure them that they are safe and protected. Finally, let them ask questions or acknowledge their feelings. For example, “you sound sad because you can’t play with your friends, are you?”
- Screen time has good and bad points. No matter what, screen time is bound to happen, but it can be a great way to relax or a source of connection. Too much screen time is where it gets tricky as it could leave your child feeling even more anxious and uncertain.
- Get outside when you can. Do what you can to get outside. If you have a yard then send your child out with chalk or a ball. Otherwise, take them for a walk or run.
Information is changing very quickly these days so do your best to stay on top of what is relevant and take the time to check in on your child. As a parent, you know your child best, and there is no right or wrong way to support your child in these times. Take care of yourself and your children and remember that we are all in this together!
We’d love to hear from you and ways that you are helping your child cope with COVID-19 in the comments. Stay safe!