The world is seeing a once-in-a-lifetimes pandemic unfold before our eyes. For parents and caregivers, there’s the added anxiety for children in our care. Will I be able to keep them safe? What happens if I get sick? Will we be able to survive on less money? These anxieties fester when questions are left unanswered, and outbreaks and hotspots are continually evolving. Imagine how all of this might seem for a child.
In times of uncertainty, the priority role for parents is to become a leader children believe in — but perfection and superpowers are definitely not required. Here are some ways to help emotionally support children in these unpredictable times.
Put on your oxygen mask first
Even before your children’s needs light up your calendar, figure out what you need to perform your best. Take a moment to take a breath, have a stretch, or enjoy a sip of coffee to power up before leading your children to academic victory. Take the extra time to get yourself into an open mindset to help your children do the same.
Create a place that feels safe and secure
Help children identify places where they can work through awkward moments. Choose a familiar place they know, like their bed or maybe a cozy chair. Perhaps they have a fort they’ve made for relaxing or downtime. Wherever it is, help create an action plan to find a safe space where they can spend time when needed.
Be mindful of the information you share
It may feel like you’re juggling hundreds of precious issues at once, but it is possible to present yourself with a sense of calm. You are your family’s information keeper, so take note of what is valuable to share. Sharing even a snippet of news helps children engage in local current events without becoming overwhelmed. When possible, keep adult worries and concerns among adults.
As children age, they may be able to accept more complicated information. However, try not to use older children as a peer for debriefing. Instead, respect their request for knowledge but focus on news relevant to their world and age. Focus on what is needed to keep them safe. Avoid scaring them, providing gratuitous details, or spending too much time in the world of “what ifs?”
Identify what you have
Start with the basics of obtaining shelter, food, relationships, and health. If you need help getting them, do not hesitate to ask for help. Locate local resources like COVID-211, which offers support for housing, food insecurity, and more. Sites like this can be found around the world as well. You can also reach out to your family’s place of worship or places of worship in your neighborhood.
When possible, highlight the things you have for children. GIve a blessing to acknowledge meal items. Give thanks for being able to spend together at home. Have children take part in chores to help them take responsibility and care for the items they own. Include children in clothes washing and model giving thanks for clothing articles that protect us from the elements. Donate items to shelters and other organizations to show children the value that remains with something even when it leaves them.
Perform a daily triage
Every morning create a routine for checking in with each family member. Use a feelings chart to help children label their emotions. Ask about feelings when there are concerns. Is the child stable enough to start the day? Do they need more time and support to bolster their sense of security?
Assess if they slept well or stayed up late. Ask about bad dreams or things that kept them awake. Are they hungry, and when was the last time they drank water? After addressing concerns, send children forward with their daily routine.
What’s within their control?
If children can identify solutions, then do what you can to support them. Collaborate with them to find ways to deal with anxieties. Sometimes this can be accomplished by answering questions. Be prepared to provide older children with some resources for the answers you provide.
Keep a routine
It may seem mundane, but routines are soothing — even healing. During times of chaos, humans look to what is healthy for them. Routines allow us to enjoy stability and remain unhindered by the events of the world. While there are times when habits change or become rocky, it is best to keep as much in place as possible. Even if adapted or some items go ignored, continue with the rest of the routine.
Consistency is everything
Along with routine, consistency helps create stability. Doing what we say we will helps us develop a sense of authority as parents, and makes children feel secure when they believe parents and caregivers are addressing their needs. If breakfast is available in the morning, whether made in the kitchen or picked up at school, children will enjoy a sense of calm when every day has some consistent points on which they can count.
Maintain a place with the daily schedule, routines, and to-dos. You are maintaining a sense of control over your family’s mission control center. You are also modeling organization skills your children will need to become productive and reach their potential.
Schedule regular check-ins
Don’t stop with morning check-ins, allow more throughout the day. As needed, give children time to express their concerns. If identifying their feelings is difficult, supply them with a feelings chart or an emotional scale. Giving children a voice helps them feel heard and seen.
Give regular reminders that children can come to you if they need advice, are scared, or just need to talk. While parents want to be the person children go to, we must help children identify other adults they can reach out to.
Emotional regulation is key
The COVID pandemic has shaken the foundation of many homes worldwide, but families can learn ways to make the most of difficult situations. Offering emotional support to children should remain a top priority.
About the Author — Vivian Nelson Melle
Vivian Nelson Melle is a bilingual Master's level Community Counselor and Certified Clinician Trauma Specialist. Before counselling, Vivian was a cross-category special education educator, specializing in early childhood populations. Vivian enjoys helping children and families find balance amid all the chaos and hope in the darkness. She believes in nourishing children's passions as soon as they ignite.