We don’t like things that are not clear and understandable. We don’t like feeling uncertain and lacking control; uncertainty can lead to feelings of insecurity. In the best of times, parenting is about helping kids feel secure, so they grow up hopeful and happy. This is tough to do when parents themselves are struggling during this time.
Although we all are troubled by living with the virus threat, parents and caregivers have the important job of helping their children and teens understand and follow the current health restrictions, while keeping them hopeful and secure.
Some parents recently shared with me how they have tried to help their children deal with the changes caused by the Coronavirus restrictions. Their comments may be helpful to you:
Explain the Coronavirus in age-appropriate ways. For young ones, answer what is asked. Don’t supply more information than they need. Limit their exposure to media coverage. They will be curious and need to process it in pieces. One grandmother, a social worker, assured, “Don’t be alarmed if their play includes the virus. This is normal and a good way for you to identify their concerns.”
Welcome the expression of emotion. Expressing emotion is healthy at any age. If it is safe to do so, don’t try to quiet it, squash it or make it better. Let it come out in a variety of ways. There is time to talk it over after the expressing is done. Sometimes we rush to “fix it” but really we just need to listen. When it was announced the school would not reopen, one mom of a high school senior watched her daughter grieve the loss of her senior year activities—prom, graduation and such. Her daughter wrote a 3-page paper called “Senior Year Ruined” she sent it to her English teacher, who then reached out to talk with her. This expressing of how she felt ended up helping both him and her. This daughter is also learning to bake, and decorated her cake creation with “R.I.P. (Rest in Peace) Senior Year.”
Try to have a routine. A regular school day runs on routine. Children get comfortable with this. Establish a schedule that your child can follow at least on weekdays. One mom who has a high school junior says, “We set up a daily schedule. Each day is a different subject for at least 1 hour, she completes that first, and then 1 hour of something educational but fun. She also has every other day for either practicing dancing or Girl Scout “homework”.
Let kids participate in the planning of the day. This may limit battles over assignments that they resist and gives them some power. Remember, having some control helps kids feel secure.
Knowing what to expect also helps kids feel secure. Another mom said, “Setting-up projects the night before is really important to support the kids with knowing what is expected, and to assist with the day flowing, especially since I’m working from home.” She also found it is important to “keep the routine when co-parenting with kids going back and forth between two homes. When possible, mirror what is happening in both homes.”
Acknowledge the ‘now’ and focus on the future. A mom of a 16-year-old said that “cancellations of outdoor events have been a challenge to explain”—her son likes helping in the pit crew at races, and it is an important activity for him. “We simply talk with him, and acknowledge all of the feelings he has around it. We then talk about plans once the quarantine is lifted.” Another grandmother has a “post-virus bucket list” full of all the things the family will do when the cautions are lifted.
Security for your kids comes from some consistent routines, allowing the normal and healthy expression of emotions, giving them some power to make decisions, a positive future focus, and above all else, love. We are all in this together. We will find our way.
Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children, and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals."