It’s scary! We’re experiencing a pandemic.
Supermarket shelves are empty. Families are fighting over toilet paper. Events are being cancelled. Days off work and school. Rising fear due to loss of income and increased financial stress. Potential self-isolation and going a little stir-crazy. Endless cycles of bad news with reports highlighting the exponential rate the virus is spreading and the increasing number of deaths world-wide. The whole situation is inciting more and more fear as the days go by.
Right now, there’s no end in sight. Adults and children are confused, anxious and worried about the future. As a parent, you might be “just coping” yourself – but what about the children?
Are your children acting out? Seeming a little more anxious or stressed? As a parent you want to do everything you can to help your children be safe and feel safe – but perhaps you’re unsure how to help.
Here are 7 practical strategies to alleviate your children’s fear and stress levels and to help them develop the resilience they need to through these challenging times:
- Are you OK?
Children look to their parents for how to respond to a situation. If you’re not coping with the current situation, if you seem anxious and fearful this will increase their concerns. Being aware of your emotions and finding ways to calm yourself will help you to “be there” for your children. The calmer and more in control you are, the easier it will be to help them through their anxieties, fears and tears. If you can’t quite manage on your own – talk to a member of the family, a trusted friend or seek help from a professional. Remember the flight safety instructions on an aeroplane; put on your oxygen mask first before you help your children and the same applies here.
- Make time to talk
The unknown is very scary. Your children will feel safer if they understand what is going rather than fear the worst by being kept in the dark. Make time to explain the situation using age-appropriate language. Sharing is not to scare children but to reassure them and to help them understand what they’re hearing in the media and seeing all around them. Take opportunities to listen to your children so they can ask questions and express their concerns. Explain that many steps are being taken to keep people safe to allay their fears and reassure them.
- Be practical
Help your child feel more in control by explaining that we can all take steps to help the situation. Children will feel more confident if they can do something practical to make a difference. Teach the benefits of regular hand washing, the importance of not sharing drinks or food with anyone and why you’re not going out into public spaces unnecessarily – just until things settle down. Explain that things will go back to normal in time – this too shall pass!
- Teach soothing and calming techniques
If your child is showing signs of anxiety or stress; support your children to cope by teaching them self-calming techniques. Help your children learn to focus on their breathing, to follow their breath on the inhale and the exhale; and if they can, to take slow deep breaths into their belly. Explain that if they feel worried that slowing and deepening their breathing will help them to feel better. Teach children to say reassuring words to themselves like “I’m fine, everything will be fine.” And encourage children to ask for help from an adult if they’re not managing on their own.
- Limit media access
Widespread media coverage can insight fear in young children to teenagers. For children less than 8 years old, where possible, limit their exposure to the media by turning off the radio or television news reports as these can be particularly upsetting. Also watch the conversations you have in person or on the phone on the topic in front of your children. For older children who are more aware of what is going on and can’t avoid the media – explain that news reports focus on the most “sensational” aspects and use repetitive emotive words, stirring images and videos to shock and capture audiences’ attention. Discuss how there are many positive things happening that are just not making the news.
- Focus on the positive
Even when times are tough, make time to relax together as a family and have fun! Isolation can provide time to reconnect with the children by playing games together, talking or watching a movie with some popcorn. Make an extra effort to talk about all the good things in your life – maybe even write them in a gratitude journal. Laughter and positive emotions are healing so tell funny stories or watch amusing YouTube videos to lighten the mood and for a laugh. Sharing the many good things in your life and in the world can help tip the balance from negative to positive.
- Build resilience
When we go through life’s challenges successfully, it builds resilience. Everyone experiences hardship from time to time and using these challenges as an opportunity to teach and nurture your child’s resilience can provide them with skills for life success.
As a parent there are many things you can do to help your children to get through these confusing times. Being a good role model, teaching calming techniques and focussing on the positive aspects of life, all support your child’s resilience. However, the single most common factor for children to develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult. So, to support your child’s wellbeing, take care of yourself emotionally and physically and get the help you need and so you can take care of them. Staying calm, being practical and remaining hopeful as a family will help us all get through these tough times together.