Helping Children Cope With COVID-19 Life Changes

While we contemplate ‘opening up the country’ for business as we knew it, there are changes that have taken place affecting the lives of millions of families. Schools, nonessential businesses, and places of public gatherings have been closed for some time now. Families are doing their best to adjust to this ‘new normal’ and rethink the ways we navigate the world around us- both inside and outside of the home.

Parents and caregivers who are self-isolated, have to now keep their children occupied, feel safe, and make sure that they are keeping up with their schoolwork. None of this is easy, but it’s important to focus on what is possible so that you maintain a sense of control and also reassure your children that they are okay, and things will get better.

Children look to adults for guidance on how to react to stressful events. Acknowledge a level of concern, but don’t panic. Teaching children positive preventive measures, talking with them about their fears, and giving them a sense of control over their risk for infection can help reduce anxiety and confusion.

photo of man carrying his child

This is a great opportunity to model problem-solving, flexibility, and compassion as we all adjust our daily schedules, balance work and other activities, get creative about how we spend time, process new information from authorities, and connect with friends and family in new ways.

Stay calm, listen and be reassuring. Be a role model. Children will react and follow your reactions. You are the example.

Be mindful of how you discuss COVID-19. You can either increase or decrease your child’s fear. Remind your child that you are healthy and will do everything within your power to keep your family safe and well. Listen carefully or have them draw or write out their feelings and respond with truth and reassurance.

Explain social distancing. Children probably don’t fully understand why they aren’t allowed to spend time with their friends. Tell your child that you must follow the guidelines of the CDC[Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and that means staying away from others until the risk of infection is under control. For older children, ‘flatten the curve’ is an appropriate analogy when showing them what impact social distancing has on slowing the spread of Coronavirus.

Demonstrate deep breathing. It is a valuable tool for calming the nervous system. Do breathing exercises with your children. Focus on the positive. Celebrate having more time to spend together as a family, and make it as fun as possible. Do family projects, organize belongings, sing, laugh, play games. Older children can connect with their friends virtually.

Establish and maintain a daily routine. It provides a sense of control, predictability and well-being. It also helps children and other family members to respect others’ need for quiet or uninterrupted time. Identify projects that might help others. Things like writing letters to neighbors or others who may be in quarantine or to healthcare workers, sending positive messages over social media or reading a favorite book on a social media platform to younger children . As adults, you must strive for a balance between roles as survivor, responders and caregiver during this time of crisis.

photo of woman carrying her child

Parents are also acting as teachers, with intentional and purposed efforts. Your efforts to support the continuity of learning for children are of great impact, but parents, you are not ‘homeschooling’ your children. You are supporting learning, and engaged in reinforcing and supplementing instruction with your children from home. Your child is still receiving specific instruction from teachers, but it has now become a virtual, tech-infused relationship.

Relieve yourselves of the pressure and stress you may be feeling as it concerns your child’s academic progress. Sure, there are expectations now, from your child’s school, that you become an integral part of his or her prescribed learning content. Before the pandemic, you were always involved in your child’s performance at school. Keep in mind that the tasks you have now been given, are basically the same as before. The difference is that now schools recognize your importance and your value in supporting their work. Schools realize that they need you now more than ever.

No, you don’t have to learn, re-learn or even teach algebra. You aren’t expected to actually ‘teach’ anything that you wouldn’t otherwise teach your child. For the most part, your role is to provide structure, a designated learning space and time for focused academic study.

You are expected to encourage your child. How? When learning and instruction is facilitated virtually[online], make sure that your child is seated in front of that device, not playing with ‘Barbie’ or playing video games like ‘Fortnite’.

Absences are inexcusable. Your child is already at home. Encourage your child by showing your interest in all assigned work, and ensure that work is done to the best of his or her ability. Encourage him or her to be unafraid to ask questions. Whether via email, a telephone learning support hotline or online resources, when any confusion or difficulty arises, make sure that your child reaches out. You don’t have to learn new concepts- just support and be mindful of your child’s learning progress.

siblings sharing with their toys

When and if the stress associated with sheltering at home, becomes too intense, for you or your child, take a break. Step away from that device, leave the room if you can, detach and do something fun. Relax for a while. Begin a conversation with your child that may be nonsensical, to make you both laugh.

Breathe deeply. Bake a cake.The idea is that maintaining your sense of humor and enhancing your capacity to cope through these abrupt life changes is the most important focus area right now. Don’t give up hope and don’t let your child lose that wonderful sense of daily optimism, in life or learning. Besides, learning happens every day and everywhere throughout life, whether intentional or unintentional! You can and will get through this–together- and this, too, shall pass!  Stay well!




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