Helping Your Child Cope Through the Coronavirus Pandemic
The CoVID-19 pandemic has been tough on all of us, to say the very least. Some of us have been able to find a silver lining or two, but many of us, our friends, and our neighbors are facing hardships that no one could have ever anticipated. A parent I met with recently shared his anxiety at not being able to prepare for more upcoming changes, as he knows things will continue to change, but cannot anticipate how they will change. Stability is not a feeling widely available to many of us at the moment.
If adults are operating in a constant state of anxiety due to the Coronavirus pandemic, our children must be, also. Here at The Journey School of Houston, our clinicians have seen a large increase in calls from parents looking for help for their children. Family systems are disrupted by the in-between of working and schooling from home and being called back to school or office, for them to be shut down again after the unavoidable exposure to CoVID-19. Several of the families I serve with more than one child have children schooling at both home and school, which creates its own set of issues for the entire family.
The chaos of this pandemic has not made the already difficult job of parenting any easier. Here are some ways to help your child feel more stable and ease the impact of this ongoing anxiety.
Check-In with Your Child Often
Checking in with your child daily, specifically about their feelings around the Corona Virus pandemic, is a great place to start. Asking open-ended questions (or making open-ended statements) can help your child begin to put words to their experience and discover their feeling state if they cannot identify it already. Consider statements like, “I’m curious what your thoughts are about the CoVID-19 pandemic”, instead of “How do you feel about the CoVID-19 pandemic?”. The more your child is able to describe their thoughts and feelings, the more information you’ll have about their overall state of well-being.
Observe and Interpret Behaviors
Many of the children I’ve been working with through the pandemic have developed new and on-going behaviors which alerted their parents to their child’s internal struggle. New habits of nail-biting or skin picking, drawing scenes of natural disasters over and over, and an increase in frequency and intensity of tantrums have all been common reports from parents at intake. If your child is displaying new or puzzling behaviors at any point during the pandemic, observing the behaviors aloud to your child, as they are happening, can help your child become more aware of how those behaviors connect to their feeling states. Consider something like “I see that you’re biting your nails, and I’ve noticed you’ve been biting them frequently. I’m wondering when that started”. Connecting your own thought about the feeling they might be experiencing can also be helpful, such as “Many people bite their nails when they are nervous. I wonder if that’s how you’re feeling when you bite your nails”.
Discuss How Your Family is Staying Safe
Everyone has different safety measures they are taking to keep their exposure to Coronavirus at a minimum. These safety precautions can range from continuing indefinite quarantine to wearing masks, washing hands often, and distancing at small gatherings. Talking about the measures your family is taking to stay safe with your children, and how they are contributing to this safety plan, can help your child create an internal sense of safety. Your child can call back to mind this internal sense of safety to help them through their own anxiety about CoVID-19, as they remind themselves of all the ways in which they are keeping themselves safe. If you aren’t sure about safety measures your family can take, consider looking at the recommendations from the CDC.
Establish Intentionality for Family Down Time
Many of the families with which I work are finding that the Coronavirus pandemic has slowed the world down significantly. Unfortunately, many of the families are reporting that demands on productivity at their jobs, their child’s schooling, and the everyday tasks of living have not slowed down. In a world where we are responsible for the same duties each day, but have many added steps in order to accomplish those safely, our minds, and the minds of our children, are working on overtime. Establishing a set time in your family’s daily routine for downtime can assist your child in the life-long good habit (with or without a pandemic!) of making sure they have time for themselves, in which they can take a break from the demands of the world around them. Whether your family does this together, or takes time apart to complete relaxing activities, building time into the daily schedule will help your family prioritize much needed rest and relaxation.
Take Care of Yourself
Children often pick up on and internalize the feelings of their caretakers and other adults around them. Ensuring you are attending to your own needs will only benefit your children. Creating a list of people you can call when you need to talk about the difficulties of living with the reality of the Coronavirus pandemic, doing daily physical activities, and using your downtime to do what you want to do for yourself are all important ways in which you can alleviate your own stress and anxiety, so that your children do not inadvertently share that burden with you.
Seek Professional Support
In some cases, children (and adults) need additional support within an ongoing crisis. If you or your child are struggling with behaviors, thoughts, or feelings that are atypical due to the CoVID-19 pandemic, and are unable to shift them with small changes, enlisting the assistance of a mental health professional for additional support is the best next step. Recognize that your child’s atypical behaviors, thoughts, and feelings could be the result of unexpressed anxiety about the very real disruptions the Coronavirus pandemic has caused, and not a deficit on their (or your) part. If you are in the Houston, Texas area, you can reach out to The Journey School of Houston’s clinical services for referral options at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find a mental health professional, no matter where you are located in the United States, through https://www.psychologytoday.com/us.