The pandemic, infectious diseases, the climate crisis, war, and other threats have been shown to raise anxiety levels. It is important for all of us to keep calm and avoid spreading more panic within our communities. With sporadic school closures, and disruptions to children’s normal daily routines, establishing a sense of normality is challenging. Routines make the transition back to school easier for both parents and children. This resource sheet includes some helpful information and guidelines for parents and caregivers to help children and young people adapt.
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
Before supporting children, it is important to check in with your own psychological well-being. Given the unpredictability of the past few years, stress levels have increased and this impacts people in different ways. It may be helpful to consider the following:
Check in with your own emotions. Take a step back and check in with your own emotions. Stress can creep up on you and can build over time. It is important to assess your levels of stress, anxiety, or sadness. This will help clarify if steps are needed to better manage your emotions.
Take a mindful moment. Research indicates mindful breaks are highly effective in managing stress – make a cup of tea, prioritise exercise, go for a walk, and carry out other self-care like getting a massage, manicure, meditating etc. This can break the cycle of stress that comes from everyday life and news media. When engaging in a mindful moment, take care to focus just on the present, it is normal for the mind to drift and to have to redirect it back multiple times at first. With continued practice it will become much easier to extend your mindful moments.
Manage social media. Ensure you take breaks from accessing this information.
Be mindful of your conversations. Children are perceptive of mood and may overhear adult conversations. It is important to think about the messages you may be directly or indirectly sending to your child when discussing current events.
Model managing your own emotions. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety differently. In an age-appropriate manner, it may be helpful to acknowledge your stress and explain that you are struggling and trying to manage your emotions in a healthy way. This helps normalise feelings of stress and will help your child to manage the situation in a more positive way. Know when to seek help for you and/or your child.
SUPPORTING YOUR CHILD
Reassure your child that they are safe. Children look to adults for comfort and support. It is important to reassure them that they are safe despite what they may be seeing or hearing.
Encourage routine and normality. If it is safe to do so, it is important to continue activities, playdates, and usual routines as much as possible. During school closures, it is also important to think about accessing online learning material that the school provides, and perhaps having classmates over to complete work together – provided hygiene measures remain in place.
Increase motivation. Since distance learning requires self-discipline, it is important to help your child stay motivated. Setting goals and making plans for how to achieve them is a helpful way to keep your child motivated. When goals are accomplished, celebrate successes together.
Seek opportunities to talk. Find natural openings to have discussions without putting pressure on your child to talk if they do not want to. Use simple questions to check in with how they are doing. Follow these conversations with a discussion about recent positive events to help them feel safe and calm.
Explain the situation in an age-appropriate manner. Younger children may need simple explanations such as, “there is a virus that is making people ill and we need to wear masks, wash our hands, and stay home from school. If we look after our hygiene, then we should be okay”. Adolescents may need more complex answers using figures and statistics from reputable sources that explain how the virus spreads and how we can reduce the risks involved.
Encourage healthy hygiene habits. There are many sources of information that outline good hygiene habits for protecting against COVID-19, including washing hands, wearing masks, and avoiding crowds.
Prevent or limit exposure to news coverage. This is especially critical with primary school children. It is important to think about how your children may be accessing information – from friends, social media channels, or TV. Some older children and teenagers are likely actively seeking out information but may not have the capacity to differentiate sensationalist or fake news. It is important that if your older child or teenager would like to research, that you do the research together, or you oversee the sources they are accessing.
Be a good listener. Try to be understanding about how your child views the situation, and what is confusing or troubling to them. Let your child know it is okay to share with you how they are feeling at any time.
Validate their feelings. It is important to reflect and acknowledge your child’s thoughts and emotions, and reiterate that it is okay to not be okay. Try not to invalidate their feelings with responses like, “oh, don’t be worried”. This may cause them to feel embarrassed or criticised. It is better to confirm and reflect what you are hearing – “yes, I can see that you are worried”. Pay attention to any separation anxiety with younger children as they have been at home with caregivers for a long period.
Constant Questions. Realise that the questions may persist as it is quite common for children when they are processing events. Let them know you are available to talk at any time. Children need to digest information in their own time, and questions might come out of nowhere.
Encourage children to tell the story of what happened. This can be done through talking, playing, drawing, or writing a story. Telling the story in their own words can help them to make sense of the event and cope with their feelings. It also provides them with a sense of control when in a situation that they cannot control.
Promote relaxation and model it. Belly breathing, yoga, and mindfulness are all helpful ways for the family to de-stress. Youtube has a variety of interactive videos that children may enjoy such as ‘GoNoodle’.
Express Gratitude and foster hope. There is significant research to show that expressing gratitude can boost positive emotions. It is especially important to focus on positive moments and draw everyone’s attention to what they can be grateful for.
MAINTAINING STRUCTURE & ROUTINES
Keys to building structure:
- Aim to be as consistent as possible when managing behaviour.
- Predictable daily routines help your child know what to expect.
- Clearly stated rules help your child understand what is expected and how you will respond to their behaviour.
Steps to creating structure:
1. Establish a routine:
- Outline daily activities
- Create a schedule
- Ensure the schedule works for the whole family
2. Discuss the schedule:
- Make sure your child knows what you want them to do and when you want them to do it
- Depending on your child’s age, use simple charts with pictures to visually display the schedule. Place it where the child can see it
3. Adhere to the schedule:
- All family members should try to follow the schedule
- Your child may not always want to follow the schedule, so reminders and support may be needed to help set them up for success
- Even when you’re tired or stressed, try to stick to the schedule as much as possible
Our Child Development Team therapists are experienced in helping parents, children and adolescents manage their emotions and handle stressful situations. While our learning enhancement teachers can facilitate and manage long distance learning, we do also offer support in the clinic, as well as by phone or online video conferencing. You can also seek additional support and guidance with your child’s school counsellor.
Signs of Distress or Worry
- Changes in sleep (nightmares, trouble settling down to sleep, expressing fear about sleeping)
- Irritability, anger, and moodiness
- Poor concentration
- Changes in appetite
- Behavioural problems (acting out, tantrums)
- Excessive jittery or jumpy behaviour
- Regression of behaviour in young children (clinging, bedwetting, thumb-sucking, trouble separating, baby-talk)
- Withdrawal from others
- Crying and tearfulness
- Increased fearfulness (worries about monsters, the dark, being alone)
- Functional impairment (trouble going to school, performing in school, playing with friends)