2020 was an especially challenging year for parents. From learning to homeschool their children to navigating new schedules to adjusting to new protocols at school, nothing has come easily. There are additional challenges and added complexities that are difficult to navigate, and your household may seem significantly more stressful than usual. This post will be focused on answering a few questions that many parents have asked me.
What are some common ways for children and teens to react during stressful times?
Children of all ages may be seeking your attention more than usual, which can contribute to feelings of burnout and fatigue. In younger children, regressing back to old behaviours like thumb-sucking and wetting the bed is common. Your child may be more clingy, irritable or rebellious, or refusing to cooperate. If a child is feeling symptoms of depression or isolation, they may begin to avoid activities enjoyed in the past.
How do I communicate with my child about the coronavirus?
Communication is key during any major stressful event. If children don't receive the information they need to understand a situation, they will often come to their own (often skewed) conclusions. First, don't be afraid to discuss the pandemic with your child, but ensure the discussion is developmentally appropriate. For example, it may be easier to understand 'bad flu' than 'pandemic' for younger children. Take cues from your child and keep the conversation going by checking in about their feelings surrounding the pandemic on a weekly basis. Further, explain to your child that what's happening on the news is often unusual or impacting , and that it isn't happening to everyone. Remember that it's okay not to know the answer to every question.
How do I deal with my child's fears surrounding the virus?
Try to validate worries and fears as much as possible. This means trying not to problem-solve, reassure, or make promises you can't keep. For example, if your child discloses they are worried about getting sick, don't tell them that they won't get sick or don't need to worry about that. Instead, try saying something like "It's okay to be worried right now. Daddy is a little worried too, but we will get through this together." You can validate emotions, thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
How do I incorporate the new COVID-19 protocols into our routine?
Maintaining familiar routines as much as possible is vital to mental wellbeing in every member of the family. The more you and your children have a set structure that is expected to be followed on a daily basis, the less anxiety and stress the family will feel. Try incorporating new routines into your old ones. For example, include choosing a mask as part of your child’s ’getting dressed’ routine, or put sanitizer on at the same time each morning. It can be helpful to have weekly activities occur at the same time too, like chatting with grandma at 7:00 pm each Wednesday over zoom.
Remember that each child is unique and will handle the stress of the pandemic differently. Take each day as it comes and be gentle and patient with yourself and your children during this challenging time.