In 2020, the entire world experienced a period of social distancing and quarantine due to COVID-19, a novel coronovirus that impacted every country on this planet!
In 10 years, the history books will talk about this novel experience that this generation lived through, and our children participated in. Schools are closed. Recreational activities have shut down. Events and venues are suspended. Birthday celebrations and vacations are placed on hold. Parks and child play centers now considered unsafe, and marked with yellow tape. While we are in the moment, the novel experience is actually as worrisome, scary, and nerve-wracking as it can be a time to reflect, relax, and build patience. I recall attending a meeting, where a mom expressed concern that her child would not make it through the mandatory lock down. And another mom, who feared her children’s “cabin fever”, would lead to fights, arguments, and ultimately chaos. For those moms, I hear you. I can only imagine the uncertainty, fear and unsettled feelings that your children may experience through this difficult time. It is real. It is expected. It is true.
Within a few days, the world responded with suggested mental health support and interventions, virtual house parties, Whats App and Face-time video chats, Facebook LIVE events, Tik Tok dance-offs and so much more! The internet has brought us together in so many ways, we could not even imagine twenty years ago in 2000. The internet has helped make our “social distance experiment” a little more enjoyable. But, this does not mean that social distancing has brought us sunshine and roses! Absolutely not. Our economy has plummeted. Jobs have ended. Shortages have arisen in basic necessities such as food, toilet paper, and disinfectant. Vacationers are stuck overseas, and many on cruise ships. Hospitals have cared for thousands of people, and over 100,000 world wide. People have died.
As parents, there are many ways you can assist your children with managing COVID-19 in healthy ways. This may help them with dealing with the situation in healthy ways, and reducing their fear and worries about their future and what could happen. These strategies may work immediately and over time to help them process their experiences in a healthy way, and teach them valuable skills.
- Develop a schedule... We know that our social distancing will last for a few weeks. Arrange a family meeting. Create a day to day schedule from Sunday to Saturday for the entire family. Create special days for family events. For example, Mondays are GAME NIGHT, Tuesdays are COOKING DAY, Wednesdays are DANCE PARTY, Thursdays are YOGA MEDITATION, Fridays are ACTION-TIME MOVIE NIGHT, Saturdays are FAMILY-VIDEO CHAT NIGHTS, and Sundays are FAMILY CHALLENGE NIGHT.
- Create routines… use routines to help create structure, predictability, and consistency for your child or teenager. Routines can help to reduce boredom and undesired behavior. By creating routines, you can help your child or teen to spend small periods of time engaging in a variety of activities which may be interesting to them or to help them with learning. For example, one parent created a 6- period day schedule in 45 minute intervals where her child did activities such as: language, music, art, science, math, reading, and more.
- Eat Healthy, Exercise & Sleep Well… ensure that your family eats healthy meals and snacks, spends some time exercising throughout the week, and has a good night sleep with naps if needed. Our bodies respond to stress in healthier ways if we are well taken care. For example, create a daily menu schedule with all meals & snacks posted.
- Spend one on one time…. whether you have one adult child, as I do OR five children under 10 years old, make sure that you spend one on one time with your children to build your relationship and connection, to attend to their emotional needs, to ensure they have an opportunity to express how they feel, and to teach them strategies to manage their emotions. Use this as valuable time to build your child’s resiliency and capacity to manage through this difficult time, the best way possible. For example, set aside one day of the week to spend with each child in any activity they choose. Don’t forget your partner will also need some special time.
Talking to your Children
In some countries, children and youth are exposed to natural disasters such as devastating earthquakes or hurricanes. In other countries, children may live in war-torn countries where they experience repeated lock downs and disruptions within their daily lives. The traumatic stress associated with these experience are insurmountable. Thus, our experience of pandemonium disease may be new for us, but not new for many children around the world. It is important to realize that traumatic stress is the same, and children and youth may experience heightened emotions, psychosomatic pain, behavior disruptions, and more. Supporting your child through this process is important and necessary.
Be Open, Share truthful information & respond to their questions
As much as possible, share honest and open information with your children and elicit their thoughts and feelings about what is happening. Be kind and gentle to correct their belief systems that may be inaccurate or motivated by fear. Reduce CNN and CP24 playing in the home. Choose 1 time of the day to read or listen to updates. If your children hear updates about new cases, deaths, or governmental response, use this as a key opportunity to talk about social justice, in addition to their fears and worries. Take the opportunity to ask children questions about what they believe is working well to help us recover from this experience. This can help to build their ability to take unique perspectives, to demonstrate empathy, and to enhance critical thinking skills. It also helps them to depersonalize the COVID-19 experience because while it impacts them greatly, it also provides an opportunity for learning and growth. Discuss your beliefs about spirituality, and end of life which may arise through this experience and access resources for grief and loss, especially if your family has a loss in relation to COVID-19 and or other losses you may not be able to complete a ceremony for because of COVID-19 social distancing rules.
To access more information and resources, the Center of Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto provided the following article: Talking to children about COVID-19 and its impact. Another colleague wrote a book to help children learn about and understand their experiences called, We are Hanging Out Inside by Theresa Fraser. Caring for Kids.BC also posted an Question & Answer page to help parents navigate COVID-19 with their children, The 2019 Novel Coronavirus. And, Children’s Mental Health Ontario posted the following article: Talking to Your Anxious Child about Coronavirus.
You Got This!
Wherever this virus takes us, and however long social distancing lasts for, we wish that you and your family remain safe, healthy, and grateful through this process.
Our physical office is closed, but we are open VIRTUALLY for video and phone counselling and psychotherapy sessions. During this time, we are offering same-day and next-day appointments with one of our skilled therapists and interns. Low-cost & subsidized counselling sessions for those who do not have access to insurance or can not afford the costs of therapy. We are happy to take your questions & provide advice!