We all imagined this pandemic to be a temporary life adjustment—a short period of time where we must slow down, stay home, and try to focus on being grateful for what’s really important in the midst of so much change (and chaos). However, ‘temporary’ has shifted to a more permanent way of life now that we are close to 6 months in.
As a parent, you might be surprised and happy to see how your kids have adjusted, too. But just as you experience ongoing stressors associated with the impact of the pandemic—namely, employment and financial concerns and the effects of isolation and limiting your usual activities—children also struggle with stress in their own way, which is triggered by so much change and uncertainty. The day-to-day lives of all children shifted suddenly when they learned that going to school is dangerous to everyone’s health and safety. There is still a lot of back-to-school controversy, which can make children feel uneasy as the new school year approaches. Just this factor alone is a lot for a child to process and cope with.
Your child will look to you and model the way you manage the extra time spent at home and the way you cope with stress. For this reason, it is critical to focus on mind and body strategies to reduce your personal stress, which will impact not only the overall environment in your household, but it will also ensure your child’s well being during this time. Below are some simple and effective strategies.
Talk to your child openly and honestly about the pandemic, but make sure to listen to their thoughts, feelings, and fears first.
Ask your child questions about what they know about the pandemic before you give input or provide them with information.
Validate your child’s fears. Tell them it’s okay to be afraid and let them know that you have fears about the pandemic, too. Then follow-up with ways that you cope with your fears and how your child can do the same. It’s important for children to learn that adults have fears, that it takes courage to admit to being afraid, and that real strength comes not in denying fear, but in confronting and coping with it.
Spend time outside (preferably in nature) with your child in social distancing friendly locations.
Set aside at least 30 minutes every day for exercise and encourage your child’s participation. Children who see their parents engage in physical activity will tend to adopt the same habits. If your child refuses (something that can tend to happen with teens, especially), avoid forcing this or any type of healthy activity onto your child. Instead, offer to do an activity with them afterwards if they join you for a 30-minute workout.
Avoid social distancing at home. Sometimes, everyone in the household can get into their own activities (e.g., social media, Netflix, other hobbies), which means that time spent together can take a back seat. Plan a fun activity that everyone can do together at least one time daily. Allow your child to pick the activity from time to time, especially if they aren’t too enthusiastic about family time at first.
Talk about the concept of resilience with your child and encourage them to tell you how they feel they have gained resilience during these times.
Try to keep junk food out of the house. If it's not readily accessible, you’ll be much less likely to consume it.
Practice gratitude daily. Here is where you go first by telling your child what you’re grateful for. Encourage your child to name at least one thing every day that they are grateful for.