Just as with adults, children have had their worlds turned upside down. Besides home and school colliding in the same space, all their extracurricular activities, lessons, parties, beach days, picnics – everything has come to a screeching halt. They have been required to adapt without question and expected just to bounce along as though these past 18 months have been “normal”.
Traditionally, children have been regarded as silent household members, and their feelings, opinions, desires, and thoughts have not always been sought in decision-making. We have grown with comments like “children must be seen and not heard” or “that is adult business” and “don’t intervene when adults are talking”.
Even if these practices no longer remain consciously, they are still held on some level, but Covid has shown us that they need to be abandoned. The mental health and wellness of our children are just as important as ours. Therefore, we need to pay special attention to how we treat childrens’ concerns during this time.
Here are some suggestions:
Have conversations with your children about everything that is happening around them. Share age-appropriate information on Covid and keep them informed about developments and decisions that will directly impact them. Limit their exposure to the media and negative information but take the time to discuss directives and policies put in place by the government or their schools and other entities with which they interact, e.g. churches/ clubs.
Make a point of checking in with your children on how they are processing the realities of Covid. Just as we may become sad or anxious about current and future events, they may also feel the same. Create the space for them to share their fears, worries and deep emotions.
As adults, it is critical to model this behaviour. Share when you are worried or distressed, not to scare them, but to show them that it is ok to feel that way. This is not meant to offload stress on the children. Rather, it is your giving them permission to verbalise and also process their thoughts and feelings.
Most times when we experience a negative or concerning emotion or situation and then enter the presence of our children, we would pretend that all is well or, if asked, say that we are fine. Instead of pretending, we could say, “ I am feeling (insert emotion) right now. I need to spend some time thinking about what has happened and working on making it better.” This approach does not transfer the issue to the children, but it shows them that we are not always Ok, and that is Ok.
If this scenario extends to the children asking what is wrong or asking how they may help, a possible response could be, “ Thank you for wanting to help me; it makes me very happy that you have offered, that alone is a huge help. If there is another way that you can help, I will let you know.”
Again, the focus is modelling behaviour and how to manage emotions. This skill, once learned, will be invaluable to children as they grow and can be transferred into any scenario, not only Covid related issues.
Include in Decision Making
Seek children’s opinions when making decisions for the home. Since all mandates will impact the entire household, be sure that their thoughts and suggestions are heard when making plans. Inclusion will underscore the fact that the family manages the changes together, and they are important and valued members of the unit.
Establish and Keep Routines
Setting and sticking to routines is key in providing emotional stability and safety for children. Prior to Covid and stay at home orders, routines existed. The same should be done now.
Routines and their predictability help children feel secure. Despite the fact that changes are taking place all around them and they are being impacted, a routine is something they can depend on. Create a program with them for their days/ weeks outside of the school schedule. Include meal times, play, family activities, relaxation and downtime, personal time and chores.
Support Virtual Activities
Plan activities frequently that mimic those which the children would have participated in prior to Covid. Wherever possible and practicable, let them continue their lessons, meetings, parties etc., online. Along with this, create opportunities for them to connect with friends and family members a few times a week.
- Have video calls with groups of friends all at once. Perhaps at lunchtime or after school. These are the times where they would have socialised together prior to Covid.
- Plan family dinner or lunch with external family members joining virtually around the table.
- Invite their friends to a virtual movie night. Agree for everyone to have popcorn and eats, and join together on one link and watch a movie via a streaming service. They can talk and laugh and enjoy the evening. Be sure to dress for the event!
- Have virtual games nights using Kahoots or other online games where all parties can participate.
The list really can be endless when it comes to virtual joint sessions. Regardless of the activity chosen, help the children to maintain the connection with their friends and loved ones until they can resume in person events.
Increase Family Activities
Have at least two in house/ within the confines of the property, family events a week. These activities can be similar to those arranged virtually but may also be unique to the home.
- Cook meals together.
- Bake cookies and favorite treats.
- Camp out in the living room if there is a tent, camp on the lawn, or the backyard.
- Play games together.
- Fix puzzles.
- Dance and sing together.
- Just have fun.
Covid continues to impact us all, children included. The only way to successfully navigate is when the needs of all parties are considered. As adults, it is easy for us to focus on the “big” things and assume that our children will adapt in whatever way is required. The reality is that they are faced with the same worries and challenges as we are and it is our responsibility to pay attention to them and help them through this period.
Yes, it is more work and investment on our part; but they are more than worth it.
Let us work together to ensure that we all thrive through this time and come out the other side physically, emotionally, and mentally whole.
Ms. Walters and the team at L.I.S.S may be reached at 246-850-3944/ 246-268-1221 for further information on this and other mental health concerns.
This article appears in the May 3 edition of COVID Weekly. Read the full publication here.