Top Parenting Do’s and Don’ts during Covid-19
A Practitioner’s Perspective, with Shelley Whitehouse, Registered Psychotherapist.
“The COVID-19 Pandemic has had our children suddenly experience a complete change of their “normal”.
All of a sudden, they cannot connect with friends or even their Teachers in person.
These physically close connections are very important for their growth and sense of stability and safety.
It is important that we assist our little ones, as well as our teens, in connecting virtually with friends. Face to face and voice to voice is a great way for them to cope with the loss of physical connection while we await a return to somewhat normal for them. Even a drive by or physically distant driveway visit would help them regain these important connection as well as helping them connect virtually online.
I believe it is very important for us to assist our children in regulating their anxiety during this unprecedented time. As always, they rely on our calm and secure base to feel safe within themselves and especially during this pandemic. Children will mirror what they see and hear from us, so it is important that we are providing them with the type of experience and state that we hope for them to feel. Taking good care of our own mental health during this time will greatly benefit our children.”
The COVID-19 health pandemic has brought stress and fear for everyone. As difficult as it is for adults to deal with, children face an even bigger burden. We all lack some degree of control right now, but children are already in a position with limited control in their lives. They also lack the resources adults have and are still learning to manage difficult emotions.
For as challenging as the COVID-19 outbreak is for adults, it’s even worse for children. If you are trying to help your child get through this experience in the best way possible, these do’s and don’ts can help.
Do Take Your Child’s Age and Developmental Level into Account
It’s important to realize that children are all different and digest and understand information in different ways, based on their age and level of development. For the most part, younger children understand less than older kids and teens.
But in addition to your child’s chronological age, it’s also important to take your specific child’s developmental level into account. Some kids just do better with difficult information than others. There’s plenty of guidance out there to help you support your child through this time, but ultimately you need to consider your specific child’s needs and base what you say and do on who he or she is as an individual.
Do Speak Honestly about the Situation
It’s important to be honest with your child about COVID-19. However, honesty doesn’t mean sharing every single detail and every single development. You don’t want to mislead your child, but you also don’t need to overwhelm them with too much information.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends speaking to your child calmly and reassuringly. Be available to talk about the virus and be aware of what your child is seeing and hearing. Providing honest, accurate, age-appropriate information is the healthiest approach.
Sometimes it’s best to wait until your child comes to you with questions or invite questions without inundating your child with information. You want to address your child’s concerns but not give them concerns they didn’t already have
Do Invite Questions
Again, it’s important to make sure your child feels comfortable coming to you. This is especially important as he or she gets older and gains access to more and more information. For a young child, a parent is his or her first resource for information. But older children have access to information from their peers and news sources and the internet.
Engaging in conversations with your child about what they’ve heard or seen can help you keep tabs on what they’ve been exposed to. It also allows you to correct any incorrect information or misconceptions about what they’ve heard.
Don’t Let Fear Overcome You
One of the best things you can do to help your child deal with COVID-19 is to take care of yourself. Most people are scared right now, but that doesn’t mean you need to let fear get the best of you or guide your decisions. Lead by example. There’s nothing wrong with feeling fearful and even admitting to your child you’re scared, but show your child healthy ways to cope with that fear.
Keeping yourself calm and dealing with your anxiety about the situation is one of the best things you can do for your child. If you are feeling anxious, get your emotions under control before speaking to your child.
According to Janine Domingues, PhD, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, “When you’re feeling most anxious or panicked, that isn’t the time to talk to your kids about what’s happening with the coronavirus.”
Even if you aren’t openly panicking, your child can sense when you are stressed or frightened, so it’s important to work through your anxiety and be calm around your child as much as possible.
Don’t Let Your Child Consume Too Much News
It’s important to be informed and some older children and teens can handle exposure to news. But no matter your age, child or adult, eventually too much news overwhelms you. The 24-7 news cycle and social media make it possible to expose yourself to news around-the-clock. It’s easy to fall down information holes and spend hours reading and viewing content that’s related to COVID-19. Unfortunately, at some point, this passes beyond being informed and becomes unhealthy.
As a parent, it’s important to prevent your child from becoming overwhelmed with news and information. It might be best to view what news you deem appropriate together.
It’s also important to make sure there are plenty of activities available that aren’t COVID-19 related. This can be difficult when we’re so limited in where we can go and what we can do. Be creative and find ways to spend time as a family and as individuals doing things that take your mind off the virus.
Don’t Ignore the Problem
It might be tempting to avoid talking about COVID-19 with your child or pretend the world outside isn’t happening. In some ways, it’s easier to do this because people are restricted in their homes, so you can create a cocoon. For younger children who aren’t as aware of their surroundings and don’t go online or watch the news, this might even be a viable option.
But older children are aware of what’s happening in the world. Even if you limit exposure, your older child or teen will know something is happening and will have questions. It’s important not to ignore these questions and to not pretend that everything is okay. The best thing you can do is take a moderate approach and address your child’s concerns with a balance of confidence and caution.
Eventually, the time we’re in will pass, but all of us will be affected by it for the rest of our lives. How children process current events and how secure they feel in their families can play a vital role in emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic healthy and happy.