INSIDE: Practical tips to help you support your child during uncertain times
None of us have lived through a pandemic before, and it can be challenging to know how to help a child in such uncertain times. Covid-19 had brought with it so much disruption and uncertainty, making it impossible to know what’s around the corner.
News about coronavirus is everywhere, and at times it can be overwhelming. We are all battling with fears over job security, risks to our health, possible school closures and wondering when we can see our families again properly. It can be difficult to process it all, let alone know how best to explain it to our kids.
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As parents, it’s only natural that we want to protect our children from worrying, but how do we do that in a pandemic? Many of us are now used to that underlying anxious feeling as we go about our day-to-day lives. While it may have become routine for us to consider social distancing at every turn or wear facemasks when directed to, life at the moment is far from normal. Much as we may try to protect them, our kids will be absorbing everything that is going on around them and picking up on all our stress and uncertainty.
So how do we help a child in these uncertain times? Is it better to give them the whole truth about the situation or shield them and only give them limited or diluted information? These are the kinds of questions which many parents, including myself, are grappling with at the moment.
In my family, for instance, my son lives away with his girlfriend. Due to Covid restrictions, we haven’t seen him in a while. In fact, we weren’t able to celebrate Christmas or his birthday with him. This has caused my youngest daughter much heartache as she misses him terribly. But we’re not really sure when we’ll all be able to be together again. I have grappled with whether I should tell her the whole truth or not.
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Strategies to help a child in uncertain times
Although there is little we can do to control many of the circumstances we currently find ourselves in, there are plenty of ways to support our kids and help them become resilient in the present climate. But you may be wondering how on earth to do that. So, I’ve put together some ideas which I hope will help:
Remember that it won’t last forever
Sometimes it can feel like this pandemic is going on forever, but it’s important to remember that ‘this too shall pass.’ Reassure your kids (and yourself) that this awful virus will eventually be defeated, and life will return to normal. Explain to them that we just have to be brave and live this way for a while, but it won’t be forever.
It’s ok to feel what you feel
We are all experiencing a roller coaster of emotions at the moment, and the same will be true for our kids. Just like the adults around them, they may be unsure about how to handle their feelings.
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In such uncertain times, when emotions can run high, it’s essential not to ignore our feelings. Our kids need to know that having these emotions is completely normal and to be expected, and that dealing with them is necessary to protect their wellbeing. Make sure you take time to chat about how they are feeling, exploring any fears and anxieties they may have.
Explain that you also have many of the same emotions that they do, and that that is perfectly normal. While you shouldn’t try to hide your worries from your kids, it’s important not to appear overwhelmed by the situation. This could frighten them and lead to them feeling insecure. By recognising that you share many of the same worries as them, your kids will be reassured that it’s ok to feel as they do. They’ll also be more likely to talk openly and honestly with you about how they are feeling. Always remind them that you are there for them and that you will get through this together.
Make allowances for some big emotions
You may find that your kids’ emotions fluctuate more than usual, especially if they are in or near their teenage years. I’m not suggesting that you should put up with rude or disrespectful behaviour, but I do think that we need to make more allowances than normal. Try to empathise and be sympathetic to how they are feeling. They may be angry, depressed or discouraged, all of which are entirely understandable. So, if they cry, shout, mope or sulk, allow them some time and space to process and release their emotions and be there for them along the way.
Follow their lead when it comes to communicating
While you should be available to answer any questions your kids may have, it’s important to follow their lead as to when and how they want to communicate with you. Some kids find it easy to talk and put their emotions into words, while others really don’t. So, if they don’t feel like talking, let it go. They’ll come to you when they’re ready.
Many children may prefer to express their emotions in other ways, perhaps by drawing a picture, making up a dance or telling stories using their toys. Encourage pretend play and you will be surprised what you might learn. This kind of communication may be much easier for your child than having a direct face-to-face talk.
There will be times when you just don’t know the answers to your kids’ questions, and that’s ok. In those moments, all you can be is honest. How can any of us say with any certainty when this crisis will be over, whether or not loved ones will get sick, or if the schools will close again? Explain what you do know but admit what you don’t. But always reassure your kids that as a family you will do all you can to stay safe and that you’ll get through this together.
This is no time for perfectionism
It’s important to recognise that in these uncertain times, our kids may feel distracted, anxious or unmotivated. The same may be true for ourselves. But this is no time for perfectionism. All we can do is our best, and that’s good enough.
If your kids struggle to concentrate at school or perhaps don’t put 100% into their homework, make some allowances. It’s more important to focus on their emotional wellbeing at the moment and to help them with any underlying concerns they may have. Perhaps they are scared by something they heard on the news, or are they missing their grandparents who are having to shield? These are the critical issues in life right now, and although we want our kids to do their best, we need to recognise that at the moment their best may be different to normal, and that’s only to be expected.
Your child may be feeling frustrated if they think they’re not achieving what they usually would, be that academically or perhaps in a sport which they can’t practise at the moment. Just like adults, kids can be overly self-critical, and so it’s crucial to teach them to be a bit gentler with themselves.
If you spot your child being excessively harsh on themselves, explain that we are all just doing our best at the moment, and that sometimes that means we don’t always achieve what we would like to.
Encourage them to forgive themselves and remind them that they can always try again tomorrow. Help them not to view setbacks as permanent, but instead to see them as opportunities to have another go. Be sure to model self-forgiveness for them. If they see you being kind to yourself after a bad day, they are more likely to do the same.
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Create space for some peace at home
We may not be able to control what is going on in the world around us, but we can take control of what happens in our homes. Try to make yours a sanctuary; a place to get away from it all. Talk to your family about the importance of this, and how you all need to work together to maintain it by being calm, kind and supportive. Encourage them to show empathy and tolerance towards one another, and to allow each other space. With peace in our homes, we will be better able to handle the outside world.
Be a reassuring presence
In moments of panic, it’s easy for our minds to race and to suddenly find ourselves imagining all kinds of worse case scenarios. If you notice this happening to your partner or kids, try to be a calming voice of reason for them. Help them to focus on the reality of today without worrying about what might happen in the future. In moments of heightened anxiety, having you there to soothe them can make all the difference. Encourage your family to reassure each other in the same way and to use these techniques in their own self talk to calm themselves when they are feeling worried, stressed or anxious.
Help them to see the bright side
Another way to help a child in uncertain times is to encourage them to see the brighter side of life. That may seem like a tall order right now, but it’s essential to help them recognise that every cloud has a silver lining. Whether it’s not having to go to school or seeing more of you if you’re working from home, try to help them focus on the positives in the current situation. This will protect their emotional wellbeing and build their resilience.
Stay connected and have fun
In our high-tech homes, it can be easy for members of the family to retreat to their rooms and get preoccupied with their own devices. Although there is undoubtedly a place for this, it’s vital to ensure that you stay connected to each other too. Make a point of eating meals together (with TV and phones banned!) and perhaps play a game after dinner. Plan family activities for the weekends like a walk in the woods, or a bike ride.
Life feels very serious right now, so do what you can to have fun and laugh as a family. This will do wonders for all your wellbeing and will bring a sense of normality in these uncertain times.
Help maintain friendships
Many children may not be seeing their friends as much as they usually would. Perhaps they are in separate social bubbles at school or can’t meet up because of restrictions placed on social gatherings. Maybe they are in lockdown or having to self-isolate. Whatever the reason, it’s not natural or healthy for kids to be isolated and unable to socialise.
Do your best to help them stay connected using age-appropriate technology, making sure you supervise them so that they remain safe. If possible and within the Covid rules for your area, arrange socially distanced playdates where they can meet their friends for a run in the park. In my experience, this has provided its challenges as kids are not used to interacting at a distance and can be unsure about how to behave at first! But they soon adapt, and it’s better than not seeing their friends at all.
Maintain a daily routine
Whether your kids are going to school, home-schooling, in lockdown or self-isolating, it’s important to keep to their daily routine. Routine is a crucial part of maintaining a person’s emotional wellbeing, and this is particularly true for children. That doesn’t mean you have to start running a military operation though! Try to keep bedtime and wake up times consistent, and then work on maintaining a few things that give a sense of stability and predictability to each day. These might be regular mealtimes, bath time and a chance to spend time together as a family. I’ve created these free daily routine charts for kids which might help.
Look after their physical health
It’s well known that there is a strong correlation between our physical and mental health. Although we may be facing all kinds of restrictions, it’s essential to look after the whole family’s physical health. Take every opportunity you can to get the kids out on their bikes or to join you on a dog walk. Not only will this keep you all fit, but it will help you stay connected and protect your whole family’s emotional health and wellbeing.
Take care of their diet too by reducing the amount of sugar they eat, increasing their intake of fruit and veggies and ensuring they stay hydrated. Don’t underestimate the impact that little changes such as these can have on their mental and physical health.
Show them how it’s done
It can be tough to stay strong at the moment but try to remember that kids learn more through what they see us do rather than what they hear us say. Don’t try and hide your feelings from them. It’s ok for them to know that you are worried, fed up of angry. But what’s crucial is that they see how you cope with your emotions, keep them in perspective and move on from them.
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By being honest with your kids about how you feel and modelling how you deal with your emotions in positive and practical ways, you will help them learn to do the same in their own lives.
Knowing how best to help a child in uncertain times such as these can be challenging. But I hope you found these ideas useful. I have written another post about how to help an anxious child which might also help.
You may also want to take a look at the Recovery College Online who have some useful free resources to help support children’s emotional wellbeing in the current time.
This short video gives some ideas about how to cope with being in lockdown and self-isolation. Although this is aimed at adults, many (but not all) of the strategies mentioned would be useful in helping kids too:
If you have any other tips or suggestions, please add them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear what strategies you have found to help your child in the current climate.
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Thanks for reading and stay safe,