To say the last few months have been stressful would be a gross understatement. From closed schools and businesses to not being able to visit friends or family, there have been a lot of changes to our daily lives that will likely continue for several more months.
In addition to these changes, our children are now getting a first-hand look at how we as parents are dealing with these stressors. Our behavior in these days, weeks, and months are crucial in fostering good coping skills for our little ones.
Many of us adults are, understandably, feeling a lot of stress and anxiety. Financial strain, disrupted routines, canceled summer plans, loneliness, and rules that seem to change every day are taking their toll. That stress and anxiety can trickle down to our children if we’re not careful. It’s important to try and handle pandemic related issues in a calm and confident manner.
Here are a few ways you can help your children cope.
Be honest: Kids are full of questions and this situation creates a bounty. Do your best to answer their questions with facts and in a way that is age-appropriate so that they understand. Measure your answers and take care not to place blame on a person or group. We want to empower our children with knowledge, but not create stigmas.
Pay attention to what they see and hear: If your children spend time playing online or watching television, keep an eye on what they’re seeing and hearing. Kids can misinterpret what they see or hear and that can lead to unfounded fears. If possible, consider reducing screen time and avoid watching COVID-related news when your children are present. Information overload can amp up anxiety for children and adults alike.
Empower them: Teach your children how to avoid spreading germs. Show them how to properly wash their hands and remind them to do so often. Remind them to avoid other people who are not feeling well and to cover their own coughs and sneezes with a tissue and to throw it away in the trash. If your children are old enough, have them practice wearing a mask at home so they can get used to one in a safe environment. It’s better to teach them to remind them a dozen times at home to keep it over their nose and mouth than at the grocery store.
Model your behavior: Our children are constantly learning from us on how to behave. Make sure you are getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthy meals often. Take breaks for yourself and encourage your kids to also take time out to quietly read or meditate.
Family time: If you are working from home, you are obviously around your children a lot more. But proximity does not equal quality time. Make sure you take time every day to spend one-on-one time with your children. Play a board game. Go for a walk. Eat dinner together without the iPads and cell phones.
Reassure, reassure, reassure: Let your children know that they are safe and that you are doing all you can to protect them. Validate their feelings and help them process them in a healthy way.
Children, especially young children, respond to stress in ways that parents may not recognize right away. Here are a few signs that your child may be struggling:
- Crying or getting irritated more than usual
- Reverting to behaviors they have not exhibited in a while, such as thumbsucking or trouble using the bathroom.
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in eating patterns
- Increased clinginess or trouble separating from family members
If your child is experiencing any of these issues then they may be having trouble with stress or anxiety. Use the tips above to help mitigate their fears. If those steps do not help it would be prudent to speak with your child’s pediatrician for more ways to help them cope. Many physicians are offering virtual appointments so you can avoid visiting in person if you do not feel safe doing so.
These are unprecedented times. Be gentle with yourself and your children. And remember, this will not last forever.