I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a trained health practitioner. I’m also not a teacher with a Degree in Education. But I am a parent, and like many of you, right now I am simultaneously wearing many hats I don’t normally wear at the same time.
In the past ten days, I have been tending to sick children (not with coronavirus), trying to keep my oldest child stimulated with school-like activities and expending extra energy to deal with the emotional onslaught that has overflowed amidst all the changes due to this pandemic. All while running my businesses and putting three meals (and many, many snacks) on the table throughout the day. Tending to my own needs has been an afterthought.
Some days, it’s been tough. Utterly deflating. Kids are clingy, whiny, missing their friends and, at times, inconsolable. There’s a Groundhog Day effect going on, too, where every night you go to bed knowing the next day you are going to do it all over again. And some days are better: your kids are happy and giggling, eating well, playing nicely and self-directed for at least part of the day. You don’t finish the day sprawled horizontally across the couch wondering how you’re ever going to get through this.
When our kids’ mental/emotional health depends on ours, it can be a slippery slope. Even when we feel stable, it’s tough to see our children struggle to cope with the enormous amount of changes to their routines, social life, and usual emotional outlets. Often we’re so depleted ourselves, or we have more than one child to attend to, that we can’t give them the attention and energy they are seeking from us.
So, how can we support our child’s mental/emotional state during this crisis with COVID-19?
Again, I’m no expert, but like all of us, there is little I can rely on outside of my household. So, I put that question out to my community online to see what other people recommend, and I’ve compiled many of the ideas below, including some of my own. The list doesn’t include general activities, such as science experiments and crafts. Those are very important to our child’s wellbeing, but this list focuses on ideas that are particularly supportive of their mental/emotional states. There are umpteen websites and Facebook Groups that help parents with ideas for fun activities to do with their kids.
Before I delve into them, I should say that everyone’s situation is different. If you are a frontline healthcare worker (God bless you), I’m sure you are dealing with even more challenges than me. So, to provide some context to this post, my husband and I both usually work from home, so we’re familiar with being together a lot. We usually have kids (7 and almost 2) in school and daycare, so we’re taking our turns working and being with the kids. We share or split household chores.
Helping Our Children Cope Through COVID-19
1. Many of you suggested that there is a better sense of expectation when you involve kids in planning the day. We have provided our oldest with a chart of activities (linked below), that puts in time allotments for various areas: activity book (school), crafts, household tasks, iPad, etc. We find this loose structure allows her to choose what she’d like to do next, giving her the control. It also takes the pressure off because no one needs more of that right now!
2. Give them time to talk to friends and family through platforms like FaceTime, Skype or, our favourite, Messenger Kids. Parents control who a child can connect with. In our household, we allocate time for our oldest to check her messages and talk with friends. This social outlet has alleviated some of the disappointment in her not being able to see her friends.
3. Cosmic Kids Yoga has been a wonderful addition to our repertoire of movement-based activities that are also calming and offer important messages to support a child’s wellbeing. Both kids enjoy it! The 3-minute video on How to Make Good Choices has been a great tool for our whole family.
4. Dance parties are easy quick-fixes when you need an energy outlet and an injection of fun. When you can sense energy building up, put on a song and start the party yourself. You’ll feel good, too.
5. Time spent outside seems obvious, but I sometimes get caught up in the moment and forget that when things get squirrelly the best solution is to get out into the fresh air. I have rarely had a time when even just a short amount of time outside doesn’t quickly diffuse whatever tension has built up. Lately kids are limited as to what they can do, but sidewalk chalk, scooters and creating a zipline off our porch lately have brought lots of smiles.
7. Podcasts have always had a calming effect on our oldest child. They allow her to rest as she listens and takes her mind off her concerns. Our favourites are Wow in the World and Brains On – both science-based, and fun for parents too. (Brains On actually has two COVID-19 related episodes: Understanding coronavirus and how germs spread and Staying Home: How social distancing helps fight coronavirus). Lately, we’ve been experimenting with a meditation podcast at bedtime, and it’s lovely.
8. With nothing on the calendar – no school, sports, parties or other events – it’s tough to then have nothing to look forward to (the same goes for us adults!) Plan something they can look forward to for the end of the week, like a living room campout (buy some hotdogs!), waffle party, or movie night.
9. We reached out by email to our school’s School and Family Wellness Worker. Your school or town may have one as well. She largely sent me materials on how we can relieve anxiety in our children, including this wonderful article, What to Say to Help Kids Feel Calm When the World Feels Fragile.
10. Extra Cuddle Time seems to be in order. This is a time to give our children extra reassurance and to acknowledge when it’s time to stop what we’re doing (or trying to get done) to 100% focus on their needs.
Finally, I’ll add: It’s OK when things aren’t OK.
We need to permit our kids to cry and feel downright awful about things. This is tough for them, in particular not being able to spend time with friends and dealing with so many changes at once. We’ve worked to communicate with our kids that we are working through this as a team. Sometimes Mom or Dad will be feeling rotten, too.
Sending you all a sense of peace, calm and comfort through these trying times.
What other ideas do you have for keeping your kids calm and centered through this crisis with COVID-19? Feel free to drop them in the comments below.