Kids & COVID
As we head into the 5th month of COVID19 lifestyle changes, kids are getting especially anxious about the future. Please remember that as a parent, you are their “safekeeper.” A parent’s primary job is to keep children safe, both physically and emotionally. Here are some tips to help you along this difficult path.
Cultivate Circles of Connection
Connecting with others builds neural connections in the brain. It increases cooperation, focus, attention span, emotional health and overall wellbeing. During times of stress, authentic connection provides a buffer that softens the negative effects of the stressful situation. Be the inner circle that your child needs by…
- Making Eye Contact – try to stop what you’re doing and look directly into your child’s eyes while talking.
- Touch – offer plenty of loving moments to your child with embraces and cuddle-time
- Be Present – be conscious not just “there”
- Maintain a Playful Setting – don’t rely too much on technology and screens to entertain your child. Think of some creative play or physical activities for the whole family to enjoy.
Maintain a second circle of influence for your children by video chatting or holding phone call visits for normal activities with extended family and friends. Turn these visits into love rituals that children can count on. Repetitive patterns create feelings of comfort and safety in the brain and provide a sense of “normalcy” that people are desperate for right now. Here are a few examples…
- Meal with grandparents
- Worship time with family
- Board games with friends
The third circle of connection includes groups such as 4-H, school friends, and sports teams that kids are typically part of. The Extension Office is still offering 4-H activities both virtually and in small groups; join the fun! Help create spirit weeks, art contests, or help your child find a pen pal to facilitate group connection. You might also try using supervised social media on a limited time frame to help kids maintain social connections. To consider…
- Social Media (supervised and limited)
- Zoom (for “face to face” meetings)
- Flip Grid (for recording and sharing short videos)
Make the Best of Hard Conversations
Here are a few things to keep in mind when kids are ready to talk about the stress related to COVID19.
- Be Prepared for emotional responses (especially at bedtime).
- Recognize when children need to talk through their feelings. Difficult behaviors are usually a sign of underlying feelings. Unusual defiance or clinginess can be caused by fear, frustration, or sadness.
- Breathe deeply and teach kids to do the same.
- Be a source of understanding by creating validation and emotional safety.
- Be open to conversations with kids about their feelings. Create a trusting relationship that doesn’t negate or make fun of feelings. This provides the opportunity for children to manage emotions.
- Provide information that is honest, accurate, and appropriate for the age and developmental level of the child.
- Pay attention to what children see or hear on television, radio, or online. Talk to children about how some stories on COVID-19 on the Internet and social media may be based on rumors and give inaccurate information.
Keep in mind that this is an emotionally charged time for all of us. If your child’s “why’s” and “how’s” trigger your distress, model active calming. You are entitled to your own feelings so don’t avoid or suppress your feelings, manage them. You might even verbalize healthy ways to work through them by suggesting a calming stroll or deep breathing. Don’t forget that your child’s calm starts with you. The following communication styles have been shown to be helpful to children…
- Assertive Communication states a positive action – Tell the child what you’d like for them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do. Use the words “do”, instead of “stop” or “don’t.” Demonstrate the action you’d like children to take and relate the action to safety. “Wash your hands to help stay safe.”
- Limit Information. Too much COVID19 information can be overwhelming to children. Remember that you are a compassionate filter. Keep messages about COVID19 basic and related to your child’s safety. Along that same line, you may consider limiting your own intake if you find too much COVID information distressing. Strong feelings get passed on to children.
- Acknowledge and Validate Feelings. This raises children’s awareness and opens conversation even when there is no “easy” answer to provide comfort.
- Follow the DNA model when discussing emotions…
- Describe what you are seeing in terms of emotional signals. “Your face is going like this (mimic the expression).”
- Name the feeling. “You seem sad.”
- Acknowledge the desire behind the emotion. “You were hoping…” or “You wanted…”
FAQ’s from Kids
When answering kids’ questions remember to use calming skills, your mind, and your heart. Understanding and addressing the underlying emotions is just as important as answering the actual question. Avoid language that might blame others and lead to stigma. Viruses can make anyone sick, regardless of a person’s age, race, or ethnicity. Avoid making assumptions about who might have COVID-19.
You might consider preparing some responses to these questions.
- Why are we staying home?
- If we’re supposed to stay home, why do you still have to go to work? (Asked with distress.)
- Are you safe at work?
- Is ______ going to die?
- Why are some people still going out?
- When will I get to see my friends again?
- Will things ever go back to normal?
- Why are you wearing a mask and I don’t have to?
Teaching COVID Safety
Instruct children on everyday actions to reduce the spread of germs.
- Stay away from people who are coughing or sneezing or sick.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow, then throw the tissue into the trash and wash their hands.
- Discuss any new actions that may be taken at school to help protect children and school staff.
- Teach them to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing; going to the bathroom; and before eating or preparing food.
- If soap and water are not available, teach them to use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer should contain at least 60% alcohol. Supervise young children when they use hand sanitizer to prevent swallowing alcohol, especially in schools and childcare facilities.
- Stay up to date on your school district’s start date and COVID-related policies such as mask wearing. If masks are mandated for your child’s school, prepare them by practicing mask wearing in public. The current mandate in public does not apply to children under 10 years old. Explain how wearing a mask stops the spread of the virus.
Help Children Create Better Communities
Finding a community service project for kids can create a sense of wellbeing, accomplishment, and purpose. There are tons of simple activities that kids can be part of such as: writing letters to those quarantined, creating cheerful chalk art on sidewalks, or planting some flowers that contribute to their community’s beauty. These types of projects can help make everyone feel positive.
For more information contact Terrie James at the Hempstead County Extension Office, 870-777-5771.
Adapted from information by Kylie Harris, CEA – FCS in Searcy County & Amy Monk, CEA-Staff Chair Montgomery Co.
Talking to your kids – coping, At Home with UAEX Project