Supporting young children amidst COVID-19
We are living in a frightening and uncertain time. The global pandemic, COVID-19, has led to rapid and unsettling changes in our communities. Schools are closed, unemployment and financial insecurity are skyrocketing, and to top it all off, the anxiety about illness or death befalling our loved ones is palpable. It would be nearly impossible to shield our youngest children from all of these stressors. Even if we could protect them from the news, media, and conversation, they will undoubtedly pick up that something is going on, and not only because many of our daily routines have all but gone out the window.
Young children rely much more on the emotional part of their brains than adults do. They are more right brain-dominant; their capacity for language is still developing, and emotional communication is what keeps them connected with their caregivers. Because of all this, children are highly sensitive to the surrounding emotional climate and easily pick up on the moods of others. Have you ever noticed that your child becomes fussier or more defiant when you are grumpy? This is common! There is no need to feel guilty about this fact. Instead, we encourage you to be aware of it so that you can support your children, rather than leaving them overwhelmed by emotions. In fact, it is essential for children to learn how to navigate a variety of emotional states. Children learn this still in several ways: (1) observing how the adults in their lives manage big feelings, (2) direct coaching or teaching from adults, and (3) practice and self-learning.
Based on this knowledge and other facts about children's developmental needs, we have compiled five tips to support children through the current COVID-19 pandemic.**
1. Maintain a routine. A consistent routine provides children with a sense of predictability. When children know what to expect, they can feel safe and relax, rather than worrying about what is coming next. Unfortunately, with many schools and daycares closed, our regular routines have been completely sabotaged. To address this, you can develop a daily routine to replace the one they have lost. This will help re-establish a sense of predictability, which may help to reduce child anxiety and prevent some behavior challenges.
2. Incorporate physical activity. Consider including regular physical activity in your daily routine. This can include: playing outside, walking, bike riding, dancing, or kids yoga. Physical activity is one of the best methods for reducing stress and increasing self-regulation. We encourage you to participate, especially because...
3. Don't forget to care for yourself! Know that it is in no way selfish to prioritize your own calming and regulation during this time. By focusing on reducing your own anxiety, you can model for your child(ren) the value of emotional self-care. Also recall that children sense adults' emotional states. It makes sense to be anxious and stressed right now, and it will help both you and your children to acknowledge these feelings and take small steps to address them. Consider narrating for your children, "I'm feeling a little anxious right now, so I'm going to take a quick break to take some deep breaths. Do you want to join me?" To manage anxiety/stress, focus on body-based strategies, such as breathing, movement, or music. We know that it is likely impossible to completely eliminate your stress right now (we are feeling the same way!). We hope that some of these strategies can help you to reduce it to a more manageable level and teach your children in the process.
4. Help your children understand. It may be tempting to try to protect your children from all knowledge of the pandemic. However, children often know more than we realize. To prevent your children from making up their own story (one that may be much more frightening than reality!), offer them an age-appropriate narrative to help them understand. You can use kid-friendly terms to explain what a virus is, why we need to stay away from other people, and what else we can do to prevent its spread. This article from PBS offers more straightforward ideas and examples on how to explain it to children: https://www.pbs.org/parents/thrive/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-coronavirus.
5. Find joy and fun. You may be finding yourself taking on new roles and responsibilities with your children during this pandemic. For example, your child's teacher is typically the one to ensure s/he is paying attention and learning, and now you may be asked to keep him/her still in front of a screen for school. This is likely not what you expected! Amidst all this, children are also adjusting: to new routines, to a high-stress emotional environment, and to the fact that they can't play with their friends right now. This can feel like an overwhelming set of changes. Consider setting aside some time each day to be fully present with your child(ren). You could play, dance, read, or go for a walk together. This can give you a break from any new task-oriented roles you now have, continue to strengthen your relationship with your child(ren), and give you an opportunity to check on how your child(ren) is doing.
If you have further questions or would like additional support, please consider reaching out to us at The Willow Collective. Our providers are currently offering therapeutic support and consultation via telehealth (i.e., phone or zoom). Contact us on our website or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!
**Please note that these tips are not meant to replace therapy services or crisis services. If you or your family are in need of mental health services, please contact us or another mental health provider. If you or somebody you know is in crisis, please call 911 or Colorado Crisis Services (844) 493-8255.