The world as we know it has changed dramatically over a short period of time and many children, even the younger ones, will be picking up that something strange is going on. Talking to our children about feelings including anxiety is crucial. Perhaps they are now staying home when they used to be in day care, or they aren’t seeing their grandparents as routinely as they would – or perhaps the school term has finished earlier and they aren’t spending time going to the parks and playgrounds, the zoo and museums.
They’ll want an explanation!
Tips to best support and manage their concerns –
– Be aware of our own behaviour – Children pick up on our anxiety, so if we are feeling anxious or stressed about what’s going on, our children will pick up on this and they’ll become anxious. The problem is that, for children, it’s even more difficult as often they won’t actually understand what they are anxious about. If we are having conversations around the dinner table, talking to our partners about the news or latest updates – children will be hearing phrases and words that may cause them to feel anxious.
It’s important to be aware of our behaviour and what we are saying and feeling around our children. When they ask for clarification, have a clear message that you and those others who are caring for them are agreement on, and use age-appropriate language to explain. Suggest to the grandparents and extended family that, when they get online and converse with the kids, they keep to the same message.
– Reassurance – it’s important to be giving children more hugs and cuddles at the moment. Let them know that (if it’s true) everyone in the family is safe and this is why we are distancing ourselves and staying home. If someone in your circle does get ill, reassure your child that everything is being done to help them get better and that sending hugs and kisses through the air is appropriate right now. Again, having that conversation and talking to children about anxiety surrounding these changes is extremely important.
– Help them with things they can control – while there is a lot of uncertainty, children will respond to guidance and behaviours that they can control ie: show them and remind them about washing their hands and being physically distant from others, set up a reasonable schedule in their day that will make them feel comfortable.
Children respond very well to a schedule, they need to know when it is a school day and when it is weekend or school holiday time, so their days should reflect that. For instance, on a school day, they should get up at a reasonable time, get dressed (ideally in their school uniform but otherwise in suitable clothes) and have breakfast, prior to attempting their schoolwork.
Have set break times and perhaps allow them to facetime a friend at lunchtime.Then allow it again only after the day’s work has been completed. On weekends, allow much greater flexibility, just as you would if life was “the old normal”.
– Let them connect with family and friends – Most of us have the internet and devices to use, so that children can easily connect with family and friends. Remember, we have to physically distance ourselves but the goal is to enhance our social connections by working hard at them.
If the grandparents can use zoom or facetime, even better. Otherwise, the phone is still a great device. Set up playdates for your younger children and they can stay in touch with their friends. The little ones can dance together, sing together, listen to a story together. Slightly older ones will contrive games. And those in upper primary years and high school are probably already used to chatting.
Some kids prefer to play online games together – you are probably going to be allowing more screen time than usual, but do ensure you continue to monitor how the screens are being used.
Our Kids will cope as long as they realise that we are coping
It’s important to practice self- care, so that we can stay on top of our emotions and stress levels – regular exercise, eating well and getting a good night’s sleep are paramount.
I cannot stress enough the importance of caring for your own well-being by having some time on your own, and working on your relationship by creating quality time amongst the madness that is life for most of us right now.
Clinical Psychologist, Amanda Gordon is available for both face to face and phone consultations if you would like further tips on managing anxiety in children during these difficult times.