Life in the U.S. looks a lot different than it did even a week ago as the outbreak from coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread. State and federal recommendations and mandates have led to schools suspending classes, canceled activities, shopping and entertainment venues closing, and restaurants adopting new protocols to help slow the impact. With many parents now forced to work from home or find alternative childcare, it’s important to create some semblance of normalcy for families. Canopy Children’s Solutions provides expert insight on normalizing and coping tips for families.
“It’s important for ourselves and our children that we acknowledge that what we are experiencing is not ‘normal’ and it is going to take time and commitment for things to not feel stressed,” said Hart Wylie, psychiatric nurse practitioner with Canopy Children’s Solutions.
“However, creating a sense of ‘normalcy’ in a very abnormal situation helps us and our kids to regulate our emotions and make the best of what is taking place around us. Especially for parents, this is a very important way to cope.”
Most children have heard of the coronavirus or COVID-19. Take time to let your child ask questions and provide age-appropriate responses about the situation and the importance of the many changes that are happening around them. If the child is afraid, acknowledge their fears and concerns and model calm behavior. Be diligent to reaffirm that they are safe and you are doing everything possible to keep it that way.
As part of modeling calm, limit the amount of time you spend reading or watching continuous updates regarding the virus. This will help in managing your own anxiety. It is easy to feel overwhelmed right now, so Wylie recommends taking time to self-care and release those tense emotions in a positive way.
Talk with your child about perspective, empathy and the many changes that are happening around them. Help your child understand that following these best-practice recommendations and safety measures from leading medical authorities can help lower the risk of illness for ourselves and others:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based sanitizer in between hand-washings.
- Clean common areas and frequently touched surfaces often
- Practice social distancing, avoid crowds and stay home if possible
- Don’t go out if you are sick
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Don’t touch your face
- Eat well and get the proper amount of sleep each night
Involving your child in these activities can help them feel a sense of control in helping protect themselves, their families and others in the community.
“Today’s ever changing environment is anything but routine for all of us,” said Shea Hutchins, Canopy’s Chief Solutions Officer. “’Normal’ life is turned upside down and it’s up to parents to find a new normal and develop new routines at home while reinforcing the normal routines such as regular chores and bedtime routines as much as possible.”
Routines are important, particularly for kids, because it allows them to know what to expect and creates a sense of order during a chaotic situation. Look at your child’s daily schedules and chart out time each day to cover educational activities such as math and reading. Check your school’s website for learning packets, online software or parent toolkits. Parents can also utilize online resources such as Khan Academy, Mystery Science and TED-Ed to keep your children engaged. Remember when creating daily schedules that younger children can only focus for 15-30 minutes at a time. Build in a family exercise time—take time to get outside and enjoy some fresh air or find an online exercise class if the weather keeps you indoors. Read books together, work on math drills or site words with younger children, find fun science activities with items you have at home or visit webcams or virtual tours that make learning fun. It’s also important to schedule a daily rest time so working parents can have time to check emails, work on projects, or join a video call without interruption. Wylie reminds us that working a full-time job (even from home) and following your child’s normal school day schedule isn’t realistic, particularly with younger children.
Temper your expectations and do what works for your family.
If you have the available technology, schedule digital playdates or chats with friends your children are missing, or with grandparents and other family members. These types of interactions can help distract our kids from focusing too much on the outbreak or on missing their normal activities. Wylie recommends things like Google Hangout, Skype or Facetime to stay connected.
Communities must support one another and follow the guidance of health officials despite the disruptions it causes in our lives and the lives of our families. Remembering that this is temporary, being mindful of your mental health and participating in activities that promote the physical and emotional well-being will help parents maintain appropriate focus and perspective while supporting children and families during a difficult time.