With news about COVID-19 dominating the media and our daily lives changing significantly and rapidly to combat the pandemic, it’s no surprise that many children are feeling uncertain, anxious or frightened. Now, more than ever, we need to make sure that we’re there for our children to help them through this period of uncertainty.
Behaviour Help has put together some helpful information to help you create a home environment that is physically, socially and emotionally safe to help you support your children through these challenging times.
S – Sensitive and responsive caregiving
To create a relaxed, loving and secure environment, we need to provide our children with sensitive and responsive caregiving. If we’re empathic and patient, we can tune into our child’s emotional and physical needs and respond appropriately. By providing consistent encouragement and support during times of distress, we can help our children through them.
U – Understand that children cope in different ways
Children’s responses to stressful events are unique and varied. Some children may be irritable or clingy, and some may regress, demand extra attention, or have difficulty with self-care, sleeping, and eating.
New and challenging behaviours are natural responses to difficult situations. It’s important to have expectations and rules in the family, but there also needs to be flexibility in expectations of how our children meet these demands.
P – Place limits on exposure to news coverage
While we need to respect our children’s needs for information, we must also consider how daily news may affect their emotions. There may be a need to limit news intake each day to set times. As a family, decide for how long the child can watch or read news, how often, and at what times.
P – Plan social connection time
Spending time with family, friends, and others is essential, even while social distancing restrictions are in place. There is no single right way to facilitate bonding, but making and building positive connections is paramount, and provides an opportunity to check in and see how everyone is coping.
Social time ideas include:
- Calling, texting or video calling friends and family using social apps
- Playing board or card games
- Watching movies or TV shows together
- Playing video or computer games online with others
- Making and sharing meals together
- Exercising or playing a sport together
- Supervised distance “play-dates” via Google Hangouts, Skype, or FaceTime
- Writing pen pal letters to friends
These connections are important for helping children feel secure and supported during the pandemic.
O – Optimistic and hopeful environment
Though times may be rough, we must do our best to create a home atmosphere where we are actively desiring, modelling and encouraging our children to choose positive attitudes, speech and behaviours that lead to happiness.
R – Routines! Reassurance! Regulation!
When answering our children’s questions and concerns, we should reinforce the steps we’re taking to keep our family safe (e.g. washing hands, social distancing, coughing/ sneezing into elbows/ tissues). We should also reiterate that there are many other people working hard to keep them safe – scientists, doctors, nurses and emergency responders – and that people are working on developing a vaccine.
It can also be helpful to create routines, such as bedtimes, showers, meals, learning and play. Sequencing the day like this can provide a sense of predictability, security and safety, which can help to alleviate anxiety.
We should also help our children learn how to manage their emotions in healthy ways. There are a number of resources that can help teach emotional regulation, including Behaviour Help’s, which discusses a range of chat tools, helpful thinking tools, amusement tools, relaxation tools, good routine tools and exercise tools.
T – Teach independence skills
Part of being happy and resilient is being actively engaged in the environment we’re in. Since our children are spending more time at home, we can actively engage them by teaching them life skills, such as helping prepare meals or cleaning the house. This can help build their independence and assist with their sense of control.
I – Include fun time everyday
We should schedule time each day for our children to have some fun, laughter and joy inside or outside the house. This could be working on their special interest, starting a project like growing plants in the garden, an outside activity like going for a walk, or joining an activity online like learning yoga.
N – Nice things for others
Doing things for others without expecting anything in return makes us happy. We can encourage our children to do nice things such as making a card, drawing or baking something for the family or neighbours.
G – Guidelines for protective measures followed by everyone
We’ve likely established protective measures to keep our family safe, such as washing our hands for 20 seconds. We should model how we expect the guidelines to be followed, reinforce the importance of them, and teach our children to follow them.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts are far from over, but by supporting our children, we can help them through it.