It’s hard enough as adults trying to make sense of what’s going on around us now. So how do we try to make sense of it for our kids, and make them feel as safe and secure as possible for their health and wellbeing.
It’s not easy.
Children respond to major impactful events in many ways. Very young children may find it difficult to understand why their family are suddenly needing to go about their day-to-day lives in a new and unfamiliar way. No matter how much we want to, we can’t protect our kids from experiencing strong emotions and distress during unprecedented events.
So the way adults behave during times like this is crucial. Children are aware of their parent’s responses and reactions most of the time, but they can be particularly sensitive during a major change event.
To navigate through all of this, we’ve put together some thoughts provided by experts in childhood anxiety on how we can help our kids cope in a crisis.
At a time like this, it’s important to reinforce with your kids that it’s ok to be worried. In fact it’s a very normal response to a threat like a disease. While worry is generally a negative feeling, it does actually serve a purpose. Tell your kids that it’s one of the ways our brain tries to help us be more alert, create a plan and respond quickly to a threat. Your kids will be reassured to know that you’re worried too, and that they’re not alone. It’s not about being seen as a superhero at time like this. It’s about being seen as human.
Know the facts
Kids can get easily overwhelmed and frightened by all the constant news and rumours they hear from friends, family and the media. It’s not always easy, but try to provide information in a way that is appropriate for their age. For young kids, it’s best to limit their exposure to media coverage. For yourself and older kids, encourage taking notice of updates from reputable sources, and avoid social media or second-hand information from people who aren’t experts in the field. Official government websites and apps are the best sources, and talk with your kids regularly about the news they are hearing, especially if they have any questions. Sometimes we can’t explain an event and it’s ok to tell your kids that you don’t have all the answers.
Know when to switch off
For older kids (especially teenagers), it’s important to make sure they know when to switch off as over-exposure to this type of content can lead to increased feelings of anxiety or worry. It’s helpful and positive for their wellbeing to take regular breaks from the news and focus on things within their control like doing exercise and fun activities.
It’s vital kids stay connected with their friends and family to improve their level of resilience. Obviously this isn’t easy with social distancing, but this is where technology becomes a major help rather than hindrance to their wellbeing. You have likely heard of platforms like House Party or Zoom, you soon will. These apps enable multiple people to be video connected at the one time, meaning that family events, friends catch-ups and even parties can still happen – just from everyone’s individual homes.
Listen and support
Listen carefully to what your kids are saying. Young children will not have the skills to
articulate their needs or concerns and listening patiently will help them to describe how they are feeling. Let them express their emotions and give them a lot of encouragement. Cuddling, holding hands and just sitting together are all part of the healing process. Also, allow children to behave as children – it can be easy for us to expect adult behaviour from kids, especially teenagers.
Take the time
We all crave for more time with our kids. So over the weeks ahead it’s important – actually critical – that we make the most of it. That means making plenty of time to be together. One of the areas for young children is spending extra time and attention on bedtime – be prepared to sit with your child until they fall asleep. If sleep issues continue try to keep bedtime as consistent as possible; use calming rituals such as a warm bath, a warm drink or gentle storytelling; avoid high levels of activity before bed; and provide reassurance that they are safe, loved and cared for.
Keeping to routine as much as possible will also help, such as normal times to sleep, normal meals and normal activities. The earlier you can reintroduce their usual structure and routine the better.
Ask for help
Like adults, most kids will adapt and grow through crisis with the love and support of their family and friends. But if your child’s reactions are particularly severe or prolonged, or if you have concerns about the way that your child is reacting, there’s plenty of places you can look for help. Below are links to youth specific support organisations, and don’t forget you can see your GP to assess your child and recommend professional help if required.
Remember, we’re all in this together.