Supporting children during the pandemic
by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante
There’s no doubt about it, due to the pandemic, our lives have been impacted in countless ways. Almost every part of our lives have changed including the way we work, go to school, handle finances, connect with friends and family, and get food and supplies. The ways that we can relax and have fun have changed too. Even simple freedoms such as enjoying nature and hugging a loved one have been altered.
Because of all the changes that adults have to manoeuvre, it can be easy to get tunnel vision and forget that things have changed for kids too. As a parent, I am guilty of this. For weeks, my focus was on making sure that my children were keeping up with their online assignments, getting exercise, and not fighting with each other. But then my kids started saying more and more things like, “When will this end?” “I don’t like learning at home,” and “I’m bored.” Sometimes they ask, “What will happen if we catch the coronavirus?”
There are several things that you can do to help kids cope with stress during the pandemic:
Establish a routine
- This provides children with a sense of predictability and control. School and daycare provided structure, and this is suddenly gone. Often, the unknown can contribute to feelings of worry and anxiety.
- Waking up and going to bed at the same time and having a schedule during the day can help kids with this adjustment.
- Time for fun and relaxing is important too. Giving them screen time is unavoidable, but according to the Canadian Paediatric Society, try to limit it to less than one hour for children two to five years of age and less than two hours for kids older than five. Screen time is not recommended for children younger than two years of age.
- Point out what is within their control. They can continue to wash their hands frequently and physically distance from people outside their household. They can call, text and video chat with their friends and family. They can make healthy choices every day.
Children see the world differently than adults
Language, memory and imagination are still developing in kids. Children communicate differently. They may not be able to understand things in a logical way. Also, children are egocentric, meaning they see things from their point of view. It can be difficult for them to see another person’s point of view or understand world events.
Pay attention to new feelings and behaviours
- Just like adults, kids react in different ways. They may be more irritable, tearful, anxious, clingy, and even angry.
- Let them know that it is normal to feel stressed out right now, and that a lot of kids and adults feel this way. Be careful not to shame them or react negatively.
- Provide them with more comfort during this time. Extra hugs and cuddles can go a long way.
Invite and encourage conversations
- Ask your kids what they are hearing about the coronavirus and if they have any questions.
- Speak calmly and honestly. If you do not know the answer to a question, offer to help them to find out. Check out credible websites such as www.canada.ca, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization.
- Be available to talk to your kids about what they hear in the news.
- Follow their lead. If they want to talk more, continue with the conversation. If they want to stop talking about it, that’s fine too.
- Explain that most people who catch coronavirus do not need medical attention and recover at home
- Talk about all of the helpers who are doing their best to keep everyone calm and safe – this includes medical professionals, cleaners, grocery store workers, truck drivers, teachers, counsellors, clergy, shelter workers, and bus drivers.
- Assure them that you and a lot of adults are working hard to figure things out.
Children usually do as well as their parents are doing. If they see you coping well, they will too. So one of the best things that you can do for them is to take care of yourself. My friends, be kind to yourself and to others!
- World Health Organization: www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/helping-children-cope-with-stress-print.pdf?sfvrsn=f3a063ff_2
- Kidshealth.org: kidshealth.org/en/parents/coronavirus-how-talk-child.html
Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.