With the unknown future of the coronavirus and the current pandemic, many parents are struggling with what to do with their children, how to manage the situation and what to say.
Exactly what you do and say depends on the child’s age and maturity, but here are some important tips for parents to use at their own discretion given the needs of their child. Seek professional help, if needed.
1. Many children in the U.S. are diagnosed with anxiety, so realize this is an opportunity to either raise or lower your child’s anxiety by how you handle the situation.
2. Be aware that what you say and what you model is very important. You, as a parent, must model calming behavior, or your child will sense differently.
3. Metacognition is the unique ability humans have to think about thinking. This situation is an opportunity to teach skills to your child. What thoughts can you tell them? Replace negative thinking — “I won’t be safe” — with, “We are safe and here is what we are doing.” Or shift from, “Will this virus impact me, too?” to, “If it does, we have medical care that will assist you” (depending on the age of your child).
4. Having structure is key. Children and adolescents thrive off structure, and with schools being closed, potentially for some period of time, there is a loss of regular routine. Build structure for their day. Who are they going to be with? What time do they get up? What time do they go to bed? What time do they start their online schoolwork?
If they are younger, post the schedule on a whiteboard in written format, so they can see it. Also, schedule time for recreation — riding bicycles outside, playing board games, etc. Limit video game use. Children and adolescents will be inclined to stray toward electronics during this unique period in our history. If you do not want to have trouble later, keep limited amounts of time on these now so that you are not trying to break bad habits later.
5. Allow kids recreation time within your own comfort level. Are they allowed to play with a neighbor child or at least interact electronically with the neighbor child through video conferencing of some kind, an app, or gaming? Once again, this should be watched closely and limited to some degree.
6. This unique situation is a great opportunity to teach new skills they may not have, like cooking. Cook a family recipe or do a family project together.
7. If your child is having extreme anxiety about the situation — some kids may, as they already have a baseline of anxiety — get help sooner, rather than later. As a therapist, I cannot stress more that people sometimes wait too long, and it becomes more complicated giving the child help rather than getting help early on and staving off a problem that is much larger later.
8. Note that, for some younger children, you might see some regression, such as at bedtime or crying or tearfulness. Reassurance is important for children; for younger children comfort items, such as stuffed animals, and sensory items, such as fidget or squeeze items, may be helpful.
9. Limit media exposure. No one knows, of course, what is going to happen now, but with the television on in the background or banners flashing across your screen, keep exposure to an age-appropriate level.
10. Distraction can be good. Simple things mean a lot.
Dr. Jay Berk is a licensed psychologist and an expert in working with children, adolescents and families. Visit jayberkphd.com