COVID-19 brings out many feelings and emotions, including anxiety. How can we help children to maintain a balance during this crisis?
A shift of routine... and environment
For many children of all ages, COVID-19 and the resulting containment disrupts their daily lives and routines. Being away from daycare or school, the constant presence of parents at home or the absence of these “unsung heroes” providing critical services, distancing from friends and extended family, etc; it’s needless to say that both children and adults have to adapt to a new reality, often very different from the one before.
Expressing emotions and feelings
During times of major adaptation or crisis, it is natural to experience all kinds of feelings and emotions, including intense ones: sadness, anger, anxiety, insecurity and doubt, fear and apprehension, powerlessness, etc. These emotions can be difficult to express or manage for many children.
A child may sometimes act differently or certain behaviours may be exacerbated. Here are some examples:
- apathy or despondency (sluggishness or a lack of interest for their usual activities or environment)
- withdrawal or isolation (physical, psychological or emotional)
- attention, concentration or sleep difficulties
- conflicts and relationship problems
- irritability or aggressiveness
- agitation or hyperactivity
- fits of rage or of tears
The transfer of stress and anxiety
Children often pick up on parents’ stress and anxiety just like sponges. You may unintentionally and innocently pass on your stress and anxiety to your child. It’s not just the coronavirus that is contagious! Passing on your anxiety to your children can have an impact on their well-being and their behaviour.
The way you respond to this unforeseen situation influences them. Simply becoming aware of this will reduce the impact. Learning to better manage your stress and anxiety will allow you to mitigate the effects on your child. Additionally, children gradually build up their stress resistance mechanisms as they grow older. To some extent, you can teach them to better manage it. It’s easier said than done, you say? You’re quite right. If this is a challenge, consult a professional or other resources to help you cope in a more calm, confident and peaceful manner during this difficult time.
The occurrence of conflicts
A crisis such as the one related to the coronavirus can really “test human relationships”. Spending more time together and experiencing stressful situations, sometimes confined to small spaces, increases the risk of conflicts between spouses, parents and children, and siblings.
How can you deal with this problem? First, you have to accept this reality and explain to the children that it is normal for conflicts to arise more easily. This may help them to understand the situations they see or that they are involved in. You can explain to them that conflicts are a part of life, but that we can learn to manage them. This is a lesson that will help them throughout their lives.
It goes without saying that any form of violence or abuse is unacceptable, whether or not we are in a time of crisis. If you think a child’s physical, psychological or emotional safety is threatened, it is necessary to inform the authorities promptly and ensure that concrete action is taken to resolve the situation immediately.
Here are a few tips for parents concerned about their children’s well-being during containment.
- Set a routine with a fixed schedule, especially regarding mealtimes, bedtime and waking hours.
- Limit the amount of information about COVID-19: clearly explain what is happening and what concerns your child, without getting into too many details or hiding important information. Adjust your message to the child’s age, level of understanding and maturity.
- Stay attentive so they feel that the door is always open when they want to express something or ask questions. Take advantage of opportunities for discussion such as at mealtime or at bathtime, for instance.
- Be empathetic. Allow them to feel what they are feeling, but help them to find solutions.
- Don’t try to constantly occupy or entertain your child. It’s alright if they experience moments of boredom or idleness. Children need these moments; it stimulates their creativity, imagination and resourcefulness. Congratulate them when they are able to undertake activities they enjoy on their own.
- Remember this simple but effective rule: in order to take care of others, we must first take care of ourselves!
- If you find it difficult to take adequate care of your child, don’t hesitate to ask for help for the benefit of both you and your child.
Consult the experts
The COVID-19 crisis brings its share of challenges, and even its trials. If you, your spouse or your child experience situations that are difficult to overcome, or if you feel that a loved one’s well-being, quality of life or health is compromised, consult a specialist. Fortunately for all of us, there are heroes who are currently available to help the population and who work very hard to limit the negative impact of this pandemic.
Doctors, psychologists, psychoeducators, social workers, nurses and volunteers—these are the contact persons you can turn to when things are tough. For information about available resources, call 8-1-1. You can also visit the LigneParents website at: www.ligneparents.com (French only) or call 1-800-361-5085.