The past several months have turned the world as we know it upside down. We have all experienced an upheaval in our sense of normalcy and security, but this is especially true for our kids. While a new sense of normalcy for kids is hopefully developing, this can be overturned at any time. Kids totally benefit from predictable routines, which can be abruptly disrupted by school closures, parental job insecurity or unemployment, and friends or loved ones getting sick.
As parents, we need to share our values about COVID-19 and communicate those clearly to our kids. Sometimes it’s really difficult to put our values into words. Recently, I was looking for a guide for families, and I came across a helpful article. I decided to summarize the highlights from my perspective in a blog to share.
See if any of the following shared values ring true for you. These may help guide you when your kids come to you with questions about our ever-changing world:
Trust and Honesty
Children are social sponges. They react and model behavior around them. Create a comfortable space and time free from other distractions to talk with your kids. Answer questions with honest responses tailored for your child’s developmental level. Acknowledge risks of COVID-19, but reinforce prevention through healthy behaviors such as handwashing and staying home when you are sick. Know your facts, and if you don’t, be honest with your kids. Saying something like, “That’s such a great question. I don’t know the answer to that but I will find out. I’m so happy you are asking me these questions.”
Kids will respond to the emotions of their parents and other adults around them. If you’re anxious about COVID-19, your kids will pick up on this- and that’s okay. Vocalizing difficult emotions and talking about how you manage them is great modeling for your kids. Talk about how you cope with difficult feelings by getting support from friends, family, and counselors. Model healthy habits like exercise, relaxation, sleep hygiene, and balanced eating.
When we lack control of global situations, it’s human nature to figure out behaviors we can do to control our own environment. Talking to your kids about keeping ourselves and others safe is really important. Adopting behaviors like wearing a mask in public places, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing (use terms like “wiggle room” and “space bubble”) can help us regain that control. Using terms like “wiggle room” and “personal space bubble” can help young kids better understand social distancing. Teaching them safe ways to connect through smiles, air hugs, and foot fives (high-fiving with soles of shoes). This can help kids feel socially in-tune. Kids love music; proper handwashing, safe coughs and sneezes, and other hygiene routines can be communicated via fun songs, such as Do the Elephant: Healthy Habits.
Positive reinforcement and praising safe behaviors can encourage continued safe practices and prevent “pandemic fatigue.” Kids have a tough time being told not to rub their eyes or touch their mouths. Distraction techniques, such as clapping hands, squeezing a stress ball, doing jumping jacks, or tapping your knees, can provide active ways for kids to keep their hands busy instead of touching their faces.
“Intuitive and conscious awareness of the child’s level of curiosity, maturity, developmental stage, and current emotion are essential to protect the child from too much or too little information.”
Be aware of what your kids know by asking them. Then inquire about what else specifically they want to know. This will avoid giving them a barrage of information that may be way beyond their maturity or interest level. Protect your kids from fear messages propagated by TV and radio. Limiting your children’s exposure to adult media can reduce the risk of misinterpretation or instilling unnecessary fear or generalized anxiety.
Children need to continue to connect with family and friends. Encourage and plan social engagements, whether it be safely in-person or through virtual means. Younger children may have difficulty engaging socially over video. Encourage shared fun over video with grandparents, other loved ones, and friends through games like Show-and-Tell, I-Spy, reading a story, or doing a simple craft.
Death as Part of Life
If your kids ask about death or dying, think about it as an opportunity to share your family’s beliefs about the meaning of a good life, including your family’s thoughts about the afterlife and any important religious or spiritual beliefs. Having conversations about life cycles in nature may help young kids gain understanding, and so will reading books. The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages and When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death are two great reads.
Enduring COVID-19 has been anything but easy. As parents, we owe it to our kids to continue to persevere. Hopefully sharing these values with your children will help you and your family in that journey. If you have further questions, thoughts, or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to me by contacting Dr. Luisa.