10 Tips to help children through the current Covid 19 crisis

As the world works to contain the current pandemic that is Covid 19, parents and care givers are having to juggle the needs of children who require home educating with in most instances, working (albeit sometimes from home) in order to support their families. Life is tough, stresses can be magnified and bored, restless and in some cases anxious children only add to many family’s sense of being overwhelmed. With that in mind I have been approached by a number of parents for advice on how best to support their children during these uncertain times. In respect of this you might find the following pointers helpful.

1 – Be aware of common reactions to crisis

Each child is unique in how he or she responds to frightening events. Some children may become more quiet or withdrawn others may become more irritable or challenging. Many children may revert back to younger behaviours such as sucking their thumb or clinging to a care giver if feeling anxious. Remember these are all normal reactions to times of uncertainty and try to respond in a calm, caring and consistent way. This is tough, especially if you yourself are feeling stressed or over whelmed. Therefore, take time out if you need to before dealing with the needs of your child. The need to do this does NOT make you a bad parent it just means that you are human!

2 – Be prepared to deal with worries or fears

Common childhood fears may intensify after a period of stress or uncertainty. For example, children who were able to sleep without the need for a nightlight may suddenly be afraid of the dark again. Alternatively, you may find that children who were previously good sleepers have started struggling to go to sleep or begun waking several times during the night. Routine, consistency and calm reassurance will all help with this. Often children behave in ways where they are subconsciously testing out a caregivers ability to make them feel safe. Inconsistent or disproportionate responses from adults will fuel the need for the child to continue to behave in a particular way.

3 – Create a sense of safety

As children will feel vulnerable and overwhelmed, it is important to initially focus on being protective and making sure their needs are met. Therefore, offer them additional comforts, e.g soft blankets, favourite foods, engaging in shared activities as a family, encouraging them to engage in soothing or calming activities independently so that they learn the ability to relax on their own. This will help your children learn and practice self-soothing techniques which are imperative if they are to maintain positive mental and emotional well-being.

4 – Limit exposure to negative conversations or news

Children are listening even when they appear not to be. By exposing them to too much confusing or contradictory information or allowing them access to negative conversations you are exposing them to potential trauma or harm. Children do not always have the language or cognitive skills to make sense of what they hear and as such, they can have a fearful response to information that adults may perceive as relatively harmless. Therefore, stick to the basic information when talking to your children about Covid 19 and follow up by emphasising that they are safe and loved.

5 – Accept that you are not a teacher and therefore, your principal job is to support, encourage and praise your child.

Remember that as a parent/caregiver you have a uniquely close relationship with your child. This uniquely close relationship while bringing many advantages can also have its challenges. Children that are well behaved, keen to learn and engaged in school may be difficult to motivate or demand avoidant at home. Try and remember this is because they feel safe enough to display these reactions or behaviours. As such, do not get into confrontations with your child about school work. For example, if your child is refusing to engage in a task give them two alternative choices. This way your child will still maintain a sense of control which will help reduce their anxiety and encourage them to be more compliant. If you feel that your child is becoming highly anxious allow them time away from their studies to relax. Remember no matter how hard you try you will not be able to replicate the learning environment of a school. Your job is keep them settled, happy and feeling safe. If things become strained give yourself a break. You are not a bad parent, rather you are doing your best in a situation that is frequently demanding a superhuman effort!

6 - Model healthy coping skills

Your children will look to you not only for reassurance, but also on how best to learn to deal with their own complicated emotions. Allow yourself enough private time and space to be able to process your own thoughts and emotions so that you have the emotional resources to be there for them. However, if your children do see you upset or sad don’t panic, you can be an example by telling them that you may be feeling sad or a little scared right now but you have positive ways to help yourself feel better really soon. Model these selves soothe behaviours to your children and encourage your children to find their own ways of relaxing or calming down.

7- Monitor behaviour over time

While it is normal for children’s behaviour to change in response to the current pandemic, symptoms of stress can be more problematic if they linger. Keep an eye on changes to their sleeping, eating, playing, studying etc. If there are no improvements over time reach out to an appropriate professional for help. Remember even after the most traumatic of situations children respond best to adults that they have close and trusting relationships with. Therefore, even if your child’s behaviour is giving you cause for concern do not feel like they have to “see” a professional. Advice and support for parents is often enough to tackle such issues.

8- Inspire a positive response

Children need to rediscover a sense of empowerment and resilience after an event that has very much been out of their control. One way to do this is to talk about the positives of a situation for example, what have you been able to do or learn in the time that you have been staying at home? Encourage them to think about how they can help others most affected by the pandemic and encourage them to feel a sense of connectiveness to their local community.

I hope you have found this advice helpful? For further advice and support contact changingmindspsychologyservices@outlook.com