The uncertainty and rapidly moving events surrounding Covid -19 are creating understandable anxiety for families. Kids take their cues about how to respond to a new situation from us. We can’t control what is going on in the outside world but we can help children feel safe by following these five steps:
- Top up your tank first
We need to be the calm, alert and focused people right now. In times of stress it’s even more important to up our self-care so that we can be that calm person. Prioritising our sleep, nutrition and exercise matters. What small, achievable things can we do to top up our own tank up? Take a walk outside. Drink a cup of coffee when it’s still hot and read a magazine, lock the bathroom door and have a hot bath. Go to bed 20 minutes earlier. Choose one thing that recharges our energy banks. Parents need and deserve consistent self-care, especially when times are tough.
2. Be a media limiter and filter what children are hearing and seeing
We need news. We also need to strike a balance between the necessary details and the ones being used to grab our attention. Be aware of the amount of time the news is on. When up to the minute reports are live-streamed into our homes, without a break, it produces unnecessary stress for our young people. Content showing people in highly distressing circumstances isn’t news and we can switch off when this is being shown. Parents make kids feel safe when we limit and filter news. Keep the balance healthy by turning phones, devices and radios off for some of the time, especially just before bed.
3. Kids watch how we act
We can help kids feel safe by increasing our level of self- awareness around what we are modelling. When we engage in panic buying or talk in a way that is overly dramatic our kids absorb the feelings of panic. Playing with children helps to build connection and reduces everyone’s stress levels. Keeping the mood light by playing calming music before leaving our homes in the morning and when we come home at night we can help everyone feel calmer. Our actions send messages about how safe children should feel.
4. Be a safe listener
School age kids are aware that people are dying from this virus and they are worried that they will die or that someone in the family will die. Younger children won’t understand the detail but they will have the feeling that something is not right.
Avoid dismissing feelings – by listening without interrupting and allowing them to tell us how they are feeling. We confuse children by telling them they are silly to feel scared and make them less likely to talk about their feelings. All feelings are valid and we need to be the safe person to help them through it. We can validate feelings and encourage them to try and put their feelings into words.
Be ready to sit and just “be” with them. It can take a long while to process emotions. These are some forms of words you can use to help encourage them to talk when they are ready:
“Something is really bothering you at the moment.”
“I’m guessing you’re feeling a bit scared hearing those reports about how people are ill.”
“Those feelings sound hard for you. I’m really glad you told me about your feelings.”
“I hope you keep talking to me about your feelings.”
Let them talk about their feelings and try not to rush them. Our aim is for them to feel they have all the time in the world to let the yukky feelings out.
5. Have a family meeting to help children feel safe
Discuss the things you want to say at a family meeting with your partner before you hold it. This will create a united front rather than ending up with different ideas in front of the kids. The aim is to talk about how things will be different with Covid-19. None of us know all the answers as there is a lot of uncertainty. Parents need to give the impression that we will be able to deal with the problem – our kids need to hear that we are the adults and it’ s our job to figure it out. We want to make it clear to kids that they don’t have to work this out – they are the kids and their job is to be a kid.
Keep the atmosphere friendly and have a hot chocolate or treat. Ideas you might want to discuss include how adults and children might need to stay at home for a while so that the bugs don’t get passed around.
Parents need to encourage children to share. Get the children to talk about what they think would be a good way to keep each other safe. Some ideas include taking a bar of soap to day care or school. Children could make some lists of things to do if we need to stay at home. We could talk about ringing up our neighbours to see if they are ok too.
The aim is to get children to feel safe by taking some responsibility for what they can do to help (eg. washing their hands). Our family meeting sets things up in advance and helps kids feel safe because they understand can do and that we have a plan of how to keep everyone safe.