The past year has been a stressful time for all of us, especially for young and new families who have been cut off from their usual support network.
Many parents are suffering from tremendous strain and worry at the moment, so it is vital that we remember that our children learn their coping mechanisms from their parents and other adults around them. If you fly off the handle when you are struggling to cope, the chances are that your child will too. Therefore, as parents, we must find ways to manage our own stress.
The way we teach children how to cope with major change in childhood sets a pattern for the rest of their lives.
Look After Yourself First
Step back and assess your own needs and fears so you can work through them and be on a stronger footing to guide the children. Whether it’s locking the bathroom door and having a bubble bath with your earphones in, taking a walk or even doing a calming breathing technique, we have a duty to our children to give them stability and security when things change. This starts with looking after yourself.
Then Help the Children
Schools might be open again, but things are far from ‘back to normal’. Face masks, social distancing, and enforced periods of isolation are still very much on the cards for the weeks and months ahead. It’s still a very unsettling time for our children.
Explain What is Happening
Children tend to worry more if they aren’t told about what’s happening around them. Ask about what they know, have seen or heard so you can help to allay any fears they may have and give them honest facts when you are talking about the pandemic, its effects and why we have to change our ways of living. Use vocabulary that they understand and always be honest. Regardless of their age, they know that things are different.
Keep a Routine
Children of any age like routine – it helps them to feel secure. They need to know the boundaries and they also need to know that they can talk to you when they are missing their friends, their activities and hobbies.
This is also an opportunity to teach them the importance of take responsibility for their physical and mental health – your routines will include regular hand washing, exercise, fresh air, healthy eating and a regular bedtime with a good bedtime story.
Life is a journey of steps so let your children know that they must take these steps each day. Taking responsibility for their actions will give them a sense of achievement. You are also teaching your children good future parenting skills by respecting them, explaining things to them and giving them your time and your patience.
Helping Them to Learn
There are lots of websites for effective online learning for children of all ages. You could enrol in something yourself and set an example too whilst learning a new skill.
Remember to structure in plenty of playtime too, whether outside or family games around the table. Children absorb so much when they are happy and out in the present moment. They also have short attention spans, therefore different activities with rest times in between keeps their antennae twitching.
Be as Social as Possible
Social Distancing makes things awkward, but connectivity is so important. If you can’t you’re your friends and family, make sure you stay connected in other ways. Keeping in touch with family and friends is so easy now with FaceTime, Zoom and other platforms.
Plan in calls so children have something to look forward to rather than doing everything on a whim. Children love anticipation and ‘putting things in the diary’ will give them this, whether it is a FaceTime call with a grandparent or friend or even an online class. Structure doesn’t have to be boring and if children see you do something that you may not feel like doing, with a smile on your face, you are also teaching them the importance of self-discipline and duty.
Children pick up and react to any stresses within the home, so keeping an eye on your own reactions to what is happening around you is crucial.
Many families have reflected on how the pandemic and lockdowns have brought their family closer together. This current period can be used as a good opportunity to strengthen relationships as you work and play together on a daily basis. Your child will gain confidence if you keep a solid foundation with lots of love.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief and trauma counselling and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ