I passed two women chatting in the grocery aisle last week. One had her son with her. He was, perhaps, ten years old. She was speaking angrily in catastrophic terms about the crisis. His face, I noticed was pale and strained.
For kids, it's important to remember if we aren't paying attention, they will draw their own conclusions without the maturity and experience to be able to discern what is real and what is imagined. Fear can be an overwhelming burden that expresses itself in stomach trouble, headaches, acting out and more.
Disclaimer: I'm not a mental health professional. I used to work in an elementary school. I raised one son of my own. I grew up with seven siblings in a busy family. I lost my first husband to mental health issues. So I have read and implemented a number of coping strategies. In my own growth journey, I continue to untangle and debunk a lifetime of fear-based lies I assumed as truth from my childhood experiences. While I had a caring family upbringing, it was a big family and being the youngest, I often was overlooked and heard things not meant for me. I gave these out of context remarks inappropriate meaning and import, misinterpreting them because I didn't have an adult perspective and the adults had no clue about what I was thinking and feeling.
So, I offer here a few suggestions you may find helpful in navigating this already challenging time. I want to especially highlight the simple but important blue section above for those of you who have kids. Let this be a springboard for your own ideas and research.
1. Reassure your child(ren) that they're safe.
This is not about just spewing platitudes and clichés to get past dealing with their Big Feelings. Hold your child, comfort them. Avoid unloading your own fears onto them. Look them in the eyes, speak kindly, promise your care, your presence, your help, your protection. Use words like "I'm here for you. I'm looking out for you and I'll do everything in my power to make sure you are safe." Then live it out!
2. Let them talk about their worries.
Affirm that you hear them. Don't discount what they're feeling or shame them by saying "You shouldn't feel that way." Use words like "I know it can be hard. These are really big feelings sometimes, when we're going through something brand new." Ask a simple question or two to draw them out, and listen carefully, rather than just talking at them or telling them facts. Get involved in a craft with them. When children are doing something with their hands, sometimes they can more easily talk about what's going on in their mind. Be available and be present.
3. Share your own coping skills (for starter ideas, see the yellow and green squares).
What works for you may not work for the kids you love. Try different strategies. Ask them what helps them calm down or solve problems. Explore the Understood website for solid advice on navigating this current Covid-19 crisis.
4. Limit their exposure.
And your own. Too much news, too much discussion, can be overwhelming and many news reports border on the dramatic and unusual, sometimes downright fear-mongering. The situation is changing every day. Screen the news by yourself (or just leave it off) and let your kids be kids.
5. Create and routine and structure.
Have regular mealtimes and bedtimes. Quiet times. Chores. Outdoor time. Baking. Board games. Yoga. Exercise. Game time. Make lists. Make "laughing a lot" the first goal. Here's one place to start informing yourself on how to create structure with children.
Like I said, I'm no expert and this is a small potpourri of a few small ways to make a difference. I'd love to know what you're doing and what works. Comment below.