Parents worldwide are struggling to keep their families mentally healthy.
When children hear about an infectious disease outbreak, more than often, they can feel scared, confused, or anxious—as much as adults. The latter is true even if the virus has not impacted your state or city as hard as others.
The truth is that kids react differently when under stress. While some show evident signs that they are struggling to understand the issue, some might demonstrate their feelings later on. Just like adults, they also need to have support and care during these unprecedented times.
Reactions based on their age
Before we touch base with some useful tips for nurturing and supporting your children while the COVID-19 persists, it is critical to understand some essential signs kids present during a higher state of stress.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the United States, many of the reactions you may notice below are normal when children and youth are handling stress.
These guidelines may help parents and caregivers learn some common reactions, respond effectively, and know when to seek support from a professional counselor when these behaviors last more than a month.
Children, 3-5 years old and how they react:
Very young children may express anxiety and stress by thumb sucking or wetting the bed at night.
Others may fear sickness, strangers, darkness, or monsters and hang on tighter and closer to their parents as a way to feel safe.
Be on the lookout for a sudden change in your kid’s eating or sleeping habits, and any unusual aggressive behavior or disobedience.
Children, 6–10 years old, and how they react:
Kids within this age range may seek much more attention from their parents and caregivers, and some even act as if they are younger by asking to be fed or dressed.
Some are resilient to follow an educational routine from their parents and show fear if they hear about going back to school.
It is best to keep both age groups away from the news or social media as these may have an impact on their mental health.
Here are seven tips for nurturing and supporting your kids during the COVID-19 health crisis, to aid calm fears, manage stress, and keep the peace at home.
Staying at home does not mean that you should give up on your kids’ routine; it’s all the way around. Behavioral experts all agree that sustaining a regular schedule is key for your kids’ mental health.
They should wake up, meal, and sleep at their regular times. A consistent routine calms kids during times of stress, especially during social distancing or quarantine.
Younger children, who are more prone to anxiety, greatly benefit from knowing what’s going to happen daily. Feel free to twist things up from time to time with meaningful activities and lively entertainment at home to elevate your kids’ sense of joy.
A basic schedule should resemble a typical school day, changing tasks at predictable times, and alternating study-play activities.
We can’t blame you for feeling anxious about how life would be post-COVID-19 and how the economy affects your finances, mortgage, and other economic responsibilities.
Also, do not discuss your concerns close to your kids. If you feel too overwhelmed to handle it, try increasing the times, you exercise during the week. The best times are in the morning when the kids are asleep.
Also, set up a consistent meditation routine right after your exercise. Research shows that your brain is in a better state of being as it releases dopamine, which plays a role in how you feel pleasure.
Managing and controlling your anxiety has a positive impact on your kids. When parents feel and project a sense of successful outcomes, there is a higher chance for the whole family to emulate the same mentality.
Do you remember your happiest days at school or family member’s reunion when you were a child? Try to incorporate fun exercises that engage your family like baking their favorite dessert or meal.
It’s never too late to learn how to make a home-made pizza. You all will have fun, and your kids will enjoy spending time together in the kitchen.
Try to mix it up with crafting activities, puzzling, karaoke, and board games.
If possible, contact your local authorities to check if it’s safe to take a walk or bike around your house with your family, two great ways to keep your kids active and positive.
Assign kids multiple yet straightforward tasks at home, so they engage with you and feel valued.
Limit the consumption of news
Staying away from the “doomsday” type of news on the TV and social media is a fundamental first step that you can take towards keeping your kid’s anxiety under control.
The truth is that misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have flooded the internet and represents a challenge for the investigative journalist, world health authorities, governments, and fact-checkers worldwide.
“We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic,” said the World Health Organization chairman weeks ago.
The WHO defines an infodemic as “an over-abundance of information, some accurate and some not, that makes it hard for people to find trustworthy sources and reliable guidance when they need it.”
Finding reliable information during a global pandemic is a challenge, especially in an age where fake news spread faster than factual ones.
According to a study by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and the Oxford Internet Institute entitled, Types, claims and sources of Covid-19 misinformation, “false information spread by politicians, celebrities, and other prominent public figures” accounted for 69 percent of total engagement on social media, even though their claims made up just 20 percent of those included in the study’s sample.
But it’s not all about media sources; your friends, coworkers, or relatives can also add up unnecessary stress and panic-inducing comments if they are also bombarded with misinformation.
We are not suggesting to block them entirely from your life. A good approach is to play the ‘big brother’ role and share with them some of the measures you are taking to counteract the COVID-19 health (and misinformation) crisis with your spouse and kids and how these have demonstrated results.
Stay in touch with your family and friends (in a healthy way)
Social distancing relates to personal encounters, not virtual ones.
Calling, texting, and video conferencing with your family and friends is a way to keep them close to you and your kids.
It is healthy for children to stay in touch with their grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and other family members with which they have had an uplifting experience.
Communicating with their loved ones can help kids feel emotionally supported and cool down some of the stress that comes from being away from their school friends.
Communicate effectively and timely
Talking to your children is the wisest idea you can take during a pandemic.
Thanks to technology, kids nowadays are more aware of what’s happening in the world than in previous generations.
Set up a time a conversation time with your kids and ask probing questions to understand how they feel and think about their current situation at home. It can help you prevent an escalation in their anxiety from social distancing and the disruption of their usual routine outside of the house.
Ask questions tailored to your child’s age level. For older kids ages 6-10, you might ask, “What have you heard about the COVID-19? Do you have any concerns that you might want to discuss?
For younger children ages 3 to 5, you could ask, “Do you have questions about the new sickness that’s going around in our community?”
Asking probing questions will allow you to address any misinformation and engage in a meaningful and supportive conversation with them. If applicable, it will show any mental red flags that could be solved by a professional counselor.
Be aware of your choice of words. Saying “you are not going back to school because you can get sick” is not the same as “as of now schools are closed for safety reasons, but we hope that they open soon.” Explain to your kids that this is a unique event and influence a perspective that they can understand once life resumes back to normal.
Check back with them weekly and pay attention to any sudden emotional reactions.
According to the British Psychological Society (BPS), “making music can improve both pro-social behavior (voluntary behavior intended to benefit another) and the problem-solving skills of young children.
The study investigated the potential effects of music-making (either singing or playing an instrument) on pro-sociability but also its impact on problem-solving.
On that note, do not feel ashamed to sing out loud with your kids or purchasing a cost-effective electronic instrument online. You will be amazed at how good they will feel after a weekly music routine.
For validation and emotional support, try to incorporate other family members while your kids perform live. Virtual conferencing apps can help you communicate with many relatives at the same time. Who knows, this may be the starting of your daughters singing career.
Parents play a crucial role in their children’s mental health.
Staying positive and having a good outcome of life after the COVID-19 health crisis wears down is critical to keep your family together and safe.
Remember to manage and control your anxiety and stress as kids pick up negative frequencies just like adults do.
COVID-19 entices parents to set up a home routine, spend quality time with your children, and use technology for your best interest.
Don’t forget that social distancing does not mean that you keep your kids away from their loved ones. Their support and validation can surely downgrade any potential anxious behavior.
Stay flexible and communicate effectively helps your family and yourself. Seek professional counseling if you feel overwhelmed or don’t quite understand your children’s behaviors.