While we're all spending more time at home right now, it's not unusual if your children are struggling a bit with the hiccup in their daily routines — especially when it comes to home confinement.
In the midst of teaching your kids to thoroughly wash their hands and all of the other physical health tips out there, be sure to focus on their emotional well-being. Here are 10 tips to help protect your child's emotional health during the pandemic:
1) Understand that reactions to the pandemic may vary.
Every child is different. Some may be demand extra attention, become irritable or clingy. New and challenging behaviors are natural responses, and you can help by showing empathy and patience. Calmly set limits as necessary.
2) Ensure the presence of a sensitive and responsive caregiver.
Maintaining a supportive, caring, familiar adult in your child's life is vital — whether that's you, a grandparent, a trusted babysitter. When a parent isn't available, children benefit greatly from sensitive care from other adults familiar to them.
3) Social distancing doesn't mean social isolation.
Yes, we have to be careful right now, but social distance doesn't mean isolation. Young children especially need quality time with their parents and any other caregivers. Keep them socially connected while you're staying at home. Set up online video chats with friends, grandparents, cousins, etc.
4) Provide age-appropriate information.
The imagination of a child is indescribable, and when they lack adequate info, those imaginations can run rampant. It's natural for you to want to withhold information from your kids, but instead of that, tell them the truth in age-appropriate ways. Limit their exposure to media coverage about the pandemic, but at the same time, let your kids lead the way when it comes to explaining it to them. Let them ask questions if they have them, and be honest in terms they can understand. Ongoing access to news and social media about the pandemic and constant conversation about threats to public safety can cause unnecessary stress for children.
5) Create a safe physical and emotional environment by practicing the 3 R’s: Reassurance, Routines, and Regulation.
The number one thing you must do is to reassure your kids about their safety and well-being along with that of their loved ones. Second, stick to all your regular routines at home life like regular bedtimes, meals, morning routines, etc. While it's tempting to want to sleep in during this time when kids are out of school, that can turn into a big backfire. Maintain your regular morning routines, even if no one's leaving the house. Get out of bed, have breakfast, take showers, get dressed, tackle school work, get crafty, et al. Third, support your child's development of regulation skills. If necessary, acknowledge your child's feelings ("I know that this time might feel scary or overwhelming") and work with him to engage in self-regulating activities like exercise, deep breathing, meditation, etc.
6) Keep children busy.
Boredom is the last thing any of us needs right now, especially kids — because when they get antsy, you'll be the recipient of that after shock. When kids are bored, they easily become worrisome and disruptive behaviors are prone to rise. Have plenty of at-home activities for them … board games, craft supplies, Play-Doh, modeling clay, musical instruments, building blocks, gardening tools and ample supplies for backyard gardening. And don't just shove it off on them. Dig into the fun with them. Have a daily family movie night where you let the kids pick the movie (there are tons of options on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Disney+), and let the kids choose a festive snack option — pick the recipe from your favorite foodie site in the morning. If you don't have all the ingredients in your pantry, no sweat … you've got a good reason to pop out of the house for a short stint.
7) Increase your child's self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is the sense of having agency or control — an especially important trait during times of fear and uncertainty. Children often feel more in control when they can play an active role in helping themselves, their families and their community. Kids can help by following safety guidelines (e.g., washing their hands), preparing for home confinement (e.g., helping to cook and freeze food) or volunteering in the community (e.g., writing letters or creating art for older adults or sick friends, sharing extra supplies with a neighbor).
8) Create opportunities for caregivers to take care of themselves.
Your child's well-being depends on YOUR well-being and that of all other caregivers. Take care of yourself so you have the internal resources to care for others. Engage in self-care by staying connected to social supports, getting enough reest and taking time for restorative activities like exercise, meditation, reading, outdoor experiences, etc. If you're dealing with a high-level of emotional stress, don't skip a trip to your mental health provider if you have one.
9) Seek professional help if your child shows signs of trauma that do not resolve relatively quickly.
Everyone adjusts to a new sense of "normal" in their own way, so don't get caught off guard if your kids exhibit emotional and behavorial changes during this pandemic. If your children show an ongoing pattern of concerns like nightmares, anxieties, aggressions, etc., that don't resolve themselves, don't hesitate to schedule help from a pro.
10) Emphasize strengths, hope and positivity.
Kids need to feel safe, secure and positive about the world they live in today and tomorrow. In the midst of a crisis, you can help them by focusing their attention on stories about how people come together — take Mister Rogers' approach by steering the narrative toward people who are helping in your community. Look for ways you and your kids can make a difference today, even if it's simply making homemade greeting cards for elderly folks in a nursing home or hospital … or for kids in a children's hospital in town.