Supporting Your Children and Teens During COVID-19
We’re all aware that COVID-19 has changed our lives in many ways. The adjustment has been difficult for many of us. As adults, we have had to deal with the stresses of working from home or losing our jobs, trying to maintain our family’s physical safety, and managing our own emotional health as best we can. For parents, this time has an added factor: how to help your kids. This post will provide some direction and tips for supporting your children and teens during this pandemic.
Talking to Your Kids/Teens:
Regardless of your child’s age, kids are perceptive. As much as we’d love to shield them from the fear and heartache associated with this pandemic, most already know that something is different and all of them benefit from having their questions answered.
Before opening up the topic to your child, make sure you have given yourself space and permission to process through your own emotions regarding COVID-19 and all that has happened because of the pandemic. When you process and manage these emotions in a healthy way on your own, you are then able to communicate with your children calmly and keep the focus on their needs and concerns in this conversation. (Refer to our previous post, “Living Embodied and Relational During Stay at Home” (https://surehopecounseling.com/2020/04/21/2765/) for more tips on healthy ways to manage emotions during this time.)
To open the conversation, start with what your child already knows. Maybe something like, “I know you are aware that there’s something called the coronavirus that is keeping you from going to school right now.” Or even, “What have you heard about the coronavirus?” This will allow your child to begin sharing his or her perspective of the pandemic. Make sure to ask your child what questions they have (and don’t be surprised if these questions are more focused on how it affects them like, “What does this mean about my birthday party?” than the overall picture). Allow them to ask as many questions as they have and always be honest with your answers. I know that some of this information can be scary for us and we may want to share some ‘white lies’ to protect them, but it’s important that our children know that they can always look to us for truth. Make sure the truth you share with your children is age appropriate and that you reassure them of your support of them through this. And if you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to let them know that. Try checking out the CDC website (listed in resources section of this post) or other reputable health organizations to find the answer together. Above all, give them the permission to experience whatever emotions they have about this pandemic and act as a supportive presence.
It may be helpful to end the conversation reminding them that you are always there to talk to about how they’re feeling or any further questions they have. Keep the conversation open if they need to talk again.
Helping your kids cope:
Regardless of whether or not your child is anxious or sad about the coronavirus, the transition of being isolated from friends and doing school from home is a difficult transition for most. Here are a few tips to help them maintain emotional health during this time.
Help them make a flexible schedule: Your children have gone from having a very structured school schedule to most likely very little structure at all. Although they may enjoy this during the summer, currently there are not as many option available to them as in the summer. It can be very helpful for most kids to have an idea of what each day will look like to keep them motivated and feeling more energetic. This schedule should include meals, outside time, time interacting with others, and time for schoolwork. Work with your child to determine when they feel best doing these things (for example – some kids may be most focused on school in the morning, and for others it may be after lunch). For older kids, help empower them to create this loose and flexible schedule for themselves.
Get creative: Art, cooking/baking, and making up new games are just some creative activities that can help your child express themselves, be present in the moment, have something to do, and just have fun. These can be done alone or with the whole family.
Get outside: There are so many benefits from getting outside. Vitamin D from the sun improves mood and reduces stress, as does being active and having fun.
Set up time with friends: Friends are so important to our children. For many, friends are a source of emotional support and an important part of the development of your child’s identity. Isolating from friends can be harmful for your child’s mental and emotional health. Unfortunately, some teens who are able to reach out to friends themselves may struggle with navigating how to connect with friends with the new regulation. Depending on where you live, the regulations may be different regarding what is allowed in terms of your child getting together with friends. However, setting up Zoom play dates for younger children and encouraging your teen to FaceTime with friends is something that is safe and allowed in every state. If allowed in your state, it may be helpful to find a friend that has also been diligent to limit his or her exposure that your child can regularly hang out with. To be cautious, this could even be going on a socially distant walk around the neighborhood or having a meal on the back porch.
Find ways to help together: So much during these times feels out of our control, and lack of control is a big aspect of anxiety. Being able to do something for others (whether that’s sending cards to family members, giving money to an organization helping individuals during this time, or volunteering with a local charity) helps us feel more in control, but also is so rewarding for everyone involved.
When do I seek out therapy? The following are some reasons to seek therapy for your child or teen: (1) when your child appears to be stuck in an unhealthy emotion such as depression, anxiety, or anger, (2) when your child is struggling to regulate emotions appropriately for their age (see resources below for a link to age appropriate emotional development), (3) when your child’s behaviors are unsafe for themselves or others, or (4) when your child’s emotions or behaviors are causing distress at home or socially. If you are still unsure whether or not therapy is right for your child, you can speak to your pediatrician about your concerns or call us at SureHope to discuss your concerns. All of the staff here at SureHope would love to help direct you to a therapist who is a good fit for your child. You can contact our North Charlotte/University Area office at (980)272-8180 or our Matthews office at (704)443-8866. At the time of this post, most of our therapists are meeting with clients virtually, but many are still taking new clients.