There are a number of difficult questions that children tend to throw at us. Where do babies come from? What happened to the dinosaurs? Why can’t I become a professional YouTuber? However, it’s fair to say that the recent goings on in our world as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak are probably leaving parents facing some highly unexpected and especially difficult questions from their kids. Why can’t I see my friends? Why are you working from home? Are we going to die?
Maintaining a sense of calm and addressing any anxiety that our children may be feeling during the pandemic is key. This can be even more challenging when we are all in isolation together. So what are some principles that we can adhere to in order to do this well?
Firstly, answer your children’s questions as best as you can. But … ensure that you answer their questions to a level of detail that is appropriate to their age level and exposure to the pandemic. For instance, explaining exactly what COVID-19 can do to the lungs of a vulnerable person in graphic medical detail is probably not appropriate. Explaining that there is a virus around that we want to make sure not too many people catch is appropriate. Too much detail can feed worry. Which leads me to my next point.
Minimise your child’s exposure to media. Coronavirus is a big story at the moment and it is infecting every element of our lives the world over. Switching on the TV or browsing the internet brings with it an avalanche of bad news. Granted, that in the middle of this avalanche there is some important information for us all to know in order to stay safe and protect those around us.
However, too much bad news can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed and can really get the wheels of worry spinning in our child’s head.
Limiting the fuel that we throw on the fire of worry in our homes is important.
Thirdly, it’s important to keep a sense of routine and busyness, particularly when isolated at home. Routine helps children to feel secure. It helps them to feel that part of their world is predictable and safe even when so much else seems out of their control and chaotic. It also keeps things moving along smoothly at home which is better for everyone. Ensuring that this time is busy with learning, completing fun projects and (where possible) doing physical activity will help to keep little minds off of the pandemic that’s going on around them.
Lastly, make sure that you are taking measures to look after your own mental health.
The biggest reference point that a child has as to how worried they should be in any given situation is … you.
If you look frightened, chances are they will be too. If you are obsessively checking the statistics in front of them, chances are they will be too. If you are snappy and agitated, chances are they will be too.
None of us are unaffected by this pandemic. However, as parents we have a responsibility to look after ourselves not just for our own sake but also for our children’s sake. Access whatever support you need in order to cope well. Plenty of mental health services are now available online. Create COVID free spaces and times in your home. Try to start and finish the day in particular with something other than a conversation around the pandemic. Manage as best you can when you are particularly frayed. Like a duck paddling in the water – frantic underneath but serene on the top.
Your children will look to you a lot during a time like this. Some calm reassurance can go a long way to helping them through. And get through they will.
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