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The current pandemic situation is bringing the world to its knees. As one story after another unfolds via online media, it becomes increasingly difficult not to panic. While panic is the most natural and expected response, as parents, our first instinct is to protect our children from exposure to all the grief and worry. In moments like these, it helps me to remember that children are always watching us. So now more than ever, it is essential for us as parents or caregivers to make space for kids to feel loved, to be afraid without judgement and to find comfort in our words.
But how do we really talk to our children about a global outbreak situation when the details of it are so uncertain to us?
The first step is to speak honestly. More often than not, we don’t give kids enough credit for their capacity to notice when we are not being sincere. While you speak with them earnestly, keep it age-appropriate.
For a three-year-old, it’s enough to know that we need to wash our hands thoroughly so they don’t carry the germs that can make us very sick. It also makes sense to explain that the germ is powerful, and so we all need to stay home. That way the germ doesn’t find our hands and can vanish outside. For an older kid, it is okay to dive further into the details of how the virus spreads and what makes it dangerous. (This might be a great opportunity to explain the cell composition of a virus. #STEM)
No matter what age your child is, while you are speaking with him or her, do not dismiss his or her curiosity. I agree at moments like these, some questions might be harder to answer than others. For awkward situations, it might be a good idea to talk about all the actions that we can take to get rid of the current situation, rather than dwelling on the how’s and why’s.
Facts Not Fiction
We live in a world with 24/7 access to information. If you have kids who are old enough to have access to the internet, they probably have access to all of this information as well. Even kids who do not have direct access to the internet have indirect access to information from discussions around the house. Pay attention to conversations. If you come across narratives that seem inaccurate, make it a point to bring them up with your child and explain why those narratives or facts are not correct.
This might be a great learning opportunity to talk to your kid about how to detect false information on the internet. Discuss how anyone is entitled to an opinion, but also that all opinions do not necessarily equal facts. Does the headline of the article attract you and draw you in? What is the quality of the article—with respect to grammatical errors and sentence structure? Are there attributes to authors or does the news article use the phrase ‘from anonymous sources’ frequently? These are often tell-tale signs that the information in the article is untrue.
This is a great time to take refuge in science and talk to your kids about the scientific details behind some of the words that they are hearing constantly, like virus or pandemic. Open up a science encyclopedia book for learning. If you are looking for information via digital content, check out the CDC or WHO websites.
If the current inability to see your friends or leave home seems to be impairing your sanity, imagine what it might be doing to a toddler or a teenager. Kids thrive on social interaction with their peers. In absence of this interaction, they are prone to feeling anxious and downcast. Children in the house will be following your verbal and non-verbal reactions. Depending what those reactions are from you, this could add to their anxiety.
During this time, our kids need our affection and love. They need to feel assured that everything is going to be okay. At the same time, they also need to know that it is okay to be afraid. Allow them to come to you with questions and concerns. Make room for their fears because more than anything else, children need to know that they will always have someone to talk to.
It is in these crucial moments that bonds are forged and trust is built. Do not miss that chance. Make time available to talk to them about the current situation. Some young people may need extra attention. Build room for that.
Although from time to time we like some pleasant surprises, for the most part we’d prefer to know what to expect. Just like us, kids love to stay in routine and the idea of knowing what’s coming next. During uncertain times, especially with schools closed, keeping a shred of the usual daily schedule can give us a sense of stability. If we can strive to keep a few small things during the day the same way, this routine can have a positive impact on how kids are feeling.
A regular schedule can be reassuring to your child and also help you as a parent to maintain a sense of sanity. With a normal schedule, children can continue learning and maintaining their school work. Make time for physical exercise in the schedule, because we all know exercise goes a long way in improving not just physical health but mental health as well.
Given the current COVID-19 outbreak situation, there are new rules like avoiding touching the face, rigorous washing of hands and no visits to friends’ houses. These types of rules require flexibility in a schedule, despite trying to maintain its normalcy. This can be overwhelming to a child, so speak to your child about why the new rules are in place..
“Put your own oxygen mask on first.” Do not take this statement lightly. As parents, caring for little humans during this time can be overwhelming for you as well. Acknowledge that and then make arrangements so that you can take care of your own feelings first. While you are caring for your toddler or teen or baby, you want to do your best to show up as calm and assuring. That means you will have to find a way to process your own anxiety first.
Fortunately we live in an age where although we can’t leave the house, all our friends are either a phone call or a video chat away. The person you may rely on could be a friend, spouse or other family member. In any case, reach out and lean on your community. Parenting was never meant to be done on your own, and we usually forget how important self-care is when it comes to parenting during challenging situations.
In moments like these, there is a magic to humor. A good laugh can heal a lot of hurts. Children, especially, love to be silly. Take a break from everything you are doing and allow yourself to be goofy. Laugh your lungs out, with your kids. Believe that not too far in the future we will be able to talk about this time in the past tense. Today we need to find a way to smile and live through this.
Remember these are challenging times for us and for our kids. This is also the time to mentor them to prepare for life, which always finds a way to surprise us (sometimes in not-so-pleasant ways). The tough days are the times when we have the opportunity to demonstrate how to show up for our family and community for the next generation. This is a time that can forge a bond,—if we allow it— that can last a lifetime and help us survive the difficult days.
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