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How to take care of our kids emotionally during COVID-19

by | Apr 22, 2020 | Just Motherhood, Parenting | 0 comments

We are all currently feeling a little lost, a lot of overwhelmed and definitely uncertain… It’s not easy dealing with a worldwide pandemic and knowing how to take care of our kids emotionally during COVID-19 may seem daunting when we feel as if we aren’t even able to cope ourselves.

I asked Salome van Wyk BEd(UP) BEd Hons(UP) MA Psych(NWU), play counsellor and founder of Flourish, to share her top tips for taking care of our little ones during this trying time. I truly hope the following tips will prove useful to parents all over the world ensuring we create a calm, safe haven for our children as we guide them through this moment in history.

Before going any further please understand that reactions to the pandemic may vary…

Children’s responses to stressful events are unique and varied. Some children may be irritable or clingy, and some may regress, demand extra attention, or have difficulty with self-care, sleeping, and eating.

The impact that the coronavirus might have on children will vary and their responses could be influenced by factors such as gender, social support, age, inherent resilience, and level of exposure to the virus.

What remains evident is that children tend to rely on parents for their emotional needs. Thus, parents (and any primary caregivers) will play a crucial central role as a child’s sources of safety, security, and information during this time.

Now, how to take care of our kids emotionally during COVID-19…

How To Take Care Of Our Kids Emotionally During Covid 19 1

How to take care of our kids emotionally during COVID-19 FREE printable.

1. Create structure by having a predictable yet flexible routine

Children are seeking predictability and control in a world that feels increasingly uncertain. Young children thrive on continuity and routines, doing the same thing daily, or reading the same book over and over again.

Try to create predictability, even if it’s just with a daily walk or dinner routine. Performing everyday activities as far as possible is vital, as this routine provides the structure that children rely on.

By maintaining familiar schedules, based on age, gender and culture, children can establish normalcy, which will reduce their anxieties. Ensure your child or teenagers follow the daily routine by involving them in the planing thereof. 

(FIND our FREE DIY daily schedule HERE)

2. Answer your children’s questions with age-appropriate information

Avoiding discussions may increase fear and anxiety. Answer your children’s questions and engage in open conversations using language that they understand.

Questions to be expected range from issues of safety, access to medical care, recovery, death, schooling, friends, teachers, pets, etc.

Parents should respond to their children’s anxieties (emotionally, by providing reassurance) AND to the question itself.

Children can ask difficult questions, but parents should not shy away from answering.

  • Do not give a child false information.
  • Rather provide reassurance and let your child know that you will look up accurate information and share it with them.

Children’s questions are essential.

  • Questioning permits children to exercise their right to participation on matters concerning them.
  • Children tend to rely on their imaginations when they lack adequate information. Adults’ decisions to withhold information are usually more stressful for children than telling the truth in age-appropriate ways.

3. Monitor exposure to media

Continuous repetitions of COVID-19 news in any form risks re-traumatising or causing secondary trauma to children. Protect your children from what you think would exacerbate their anxieties and that which is unhelpful towards their healing.

Adults should limit children’s exposure to media coverage, social media, and adult conversations about the pandemic, as these channels may be less age-appropriate. Ongoing access to news and social media about the pandemic and constant conversation about threats to public safety can cause unnecessary stress for children.

Help build resilience in your children by facilitating play, nurturing care and celebrating survival with them on an on-going basis. Resilience can go a long way post-COVID-19.

4. Create a physical and emotionally safe environment

Provide reassurance to children about their own safety as well as the safety of loved ones.  Tell them that it is an adults’ job to ensure their safety.

Be open and listen to your children as they look to you for support. Accept how they feel and comfort them.

5. Stay in contact with close relatives and friends

Children should stay in contact with the important people in their lives. It will give them reassurance and joy.

  • Arrange video calls as often as possible, with grandparents, family, friends and even teachers. 
  • For younger kids – provide “something to do” to help them to talk to their friends. They could play a game or share their favourite doll. Virtual tea parties are very “in” at the moment too.
  • Rediscover the lost art of letter writing or think of something special to drop at a friend’s gate.

6. Keep your children “busy”

When children are bored, their levels of worry and disruptive behaviours may increase. Adults can provide options for safe activities (e.g., outside play, blocks, modelling clay, art, music, games) and involve children in brainstorming other creative ideas. Children need ample time to engage in play and other joyful or learning experiences without worrying or talking about the pandemic.

During this stressful time, it’s also tremendously helpful for children (and adults) to get ourselves out of our heads and into their bodies.

Whether it’s using Kids Yoga, or simply doing jumping jacks – movement/exercise can be very helpful. Nature helps stabilise human emotions, so get outside. And don’t underestimate the importance of messy play. Very young children use messy play to physically explore and work through their emotions.

All of the above mentioned will be helpful!

7. Stay positive

Children need to feel safe, secure, and positive about their present and future.

Adults can help by focusing children’s attention on stories about how people come together, find creative solutions to difficult problems, and overcome adversity during the epidemic. Talking about these stories can be healing and reassuring to children and adults alike.

8. Look after yourself too

Children pick up on their parents’ stress, and it can make them feel unsafe.

Young children might not understand what you’re talking about, but that makes it even scarier. They absorb our emotion and tone, worry and anxiety. Try to be aware of your own level of stress and anxiety and be kind to yourself. Take 15 minutes in the morning to have coffee by yourself. Split the heavy household burden we all carry with your partner if possible. Even an extra few minutes in the shower can be comforting.

Your well-being is imperative to your children’s wellbeing and recovery, as children sometimes regulate their own emotions based on the emotional response of their parents. Parents MUST take care of themselves so they have the internal resources to care for others.

REMEMBER: When children see you modelling healthy behaviour, they will begin to do the same. Children tend to do what children see. Your children will feel better because you feel better. BUT you are allowed to show your feelings and talk about it… If you need some time alone, tell your children you feel overwhelmed and needs 10 minutes on your own. NO NEED TO BE PERFECT.

Emotional Wellness For Kids

Most importantly:

  • Connect with your children, as often as possible

Stop your child’s nervous systems from going into fight, flight or freeze mode by connecting with them daily. Increase “connection” time by being physically close and creating special, one-on-one time together. Do this for each of your children.

Keep it to 20 minutes, or longer – it’s up to us. It can be at the same time every day so children or teenagers can look forward to your “date”. Giving children options will also build self-confidence and provides a feeling of control. So ask your child what they would like to do.

Laugh together, play or just enjoy a good snuggle. Actively listen to your child as he/she tries to make sense of the things happening around them. The ability of parents/caregivers to actively and intently listen to their child is crucial. Listen to them, look at them. Give them your full attention. 

REMEMBER: Kindness, love and compassion are what children need to feel secure. It is very basic and true.

  • Acknowledge and reflect your child’s emotions

When your child shares their deepest feelings with you, it is a gift. It shows trust. It also gives you the chance to help them cope with their emotions—one of the most important responsibilities as parents.

So, when your child tells you what’s on their mind and in their heart, tell them how happy you are that they shared their thoughts and feelings with you.  This will reinforce that you will always be there for them and can handle whatever they may be experiencing. When you recognize and acknowledge your child’s emotions, you let them know that they are not alone and that you understand and accept them completely.

This helps your child gain the self-acceptance and self-awareness he/she needs to recognize, own and manage their feelings effectively, far into the future. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.

Acknowledge that our world has changed a lot over the past few weeks and that change can be hard. Share that you are also adapting and that we are all in this together. 

Avoid jumping to the reassurance that all will be well when your child expresses difficult emotions. When teachers and friends are missed, instead of responding, “Don’t worry, you’ll see them again soon!”, start by acknowledging the experience and emotion: “That makes a lot of sense. You love your school friends and teachers. It’s hard not to be able to play with them and that makes you feel sad.”

Then move to empowerment, by, for example, brainstorming ways your child can stay connected to teachers and friends by scheduling video chats, drawing a picture or dictating an email to send to loved ones.

  • Know that your child may show regression

Regression – moving backwards in their development – is a very common reaction to stress and is to be expected right now. Regression means that the child is not able to cope in as mature a manner as they have recently mastered, because they feel too overwhelmed.

At the moment, like for many of us, our children are also struggling to manage everyday tasks and challenges. This may lead to more challenging behaviours.

You may see your child get frustrated more easily, become excessively clingy, have more potty accidents, experience sleep disruption, and, have a change in their eating patterns. Some children use more baby talk or pout and cry when they can’t have what they want. Older children and teenagers might ask for more help than usual with their homework. They may also be volatile or lash out.

Do not use shame. And please do not tell your child they are “acting like a baby” – this will have a profound negative effect. It is an attack on their sense-of-self which leads to more acting-out behaviour.

Rather validate your child’s experience. Because we love our children so deeply, it is hard to see them struggle. We just want to make the “bad” feelings go away because we think it’s harmful to them to feel sad, angry, or scared. But ignoring or minimizing feelings doesn’t make them magically disappear, they just get “acted-out” through behaviours.

Recognize the regression as a sign of stress and increase your support, even if it seems like babying them or giving in to childish demands. Recognizing your child’s need for extra comfort. “Baby” them more, rocking and singing to them as you once did. 

Be patient, ride it out. This too shall pass.

  • Allow for enough FREE PLAY!

Play is a child’s language. It’s how new information is processed, how they experience and make sense of it all. When a child is overwhelmed by something in their internal experience they utilize toys, art, dramatic play etc. to express their feelings.

That’s why it’s so important to give our children the space to play out these themes. Don’t criticize them even if play seems a little morbid or aggressive. As long as it is done through play, and they aren’t actually hurting anybody allow for this natural process to help bring about a better understanding as well as healing.

Themes that children might be playing currently include; separation, death/dying, illness, medical care, being stuck or entrapped, losing or missing things, being in control, superheroes and saving, scary things, or being scared.

Playing out the various scenarios will help with solving problems and give a feeling of being in control.

How To Take Care Of Our Kids Emotionally

Emotional and behavioural changes in children are to be expected during a pandemic. Everyone is adjusting to a “new sense of normal”. If children show an ongoing patterns of emotional or behavioural concerns (e.g., nightmares, excessive focus on anxieties, increased aggression, regressive behaviours, or self-harm) which does not resolve with supports – Then professional help may be needed.

Thank you once again to Salome van Wyk BEd(UP) BEd Hons(UP) MA Psych(NWU), play counsellor and founder of Flourish for this insightful article.

Flourish Salome van Wyk

For more COVID 19 resources for parents have a look HERE and HERE.
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