As I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my family, it struck me how much has changed over this past year. Rather than having everyone together in our home, laughing, eating, and celebrating such a joyous holiday, we set up in our garage. My wife and I ate at one table, and across the garage were my grandchildren and their parents at a separate table. On Thanksgiving Day, my oldest son came with my daughter-in-law and their three kids, and on Friday, we hosted my daughter, son-in-law, and their three children. This scene, I’m sure, was replicated across the country with families either seeing each other in a socially distanced way, in the garage or outside, or perhaps just by Zoom. As many of us say, this has become the “new normal.”
What struck me was despite all these changes and restrictions; my grandchildren seemed to be adjusting well and were happy. As a psychologist, I see so many kids displaying increased symptoms of anxiety and depression as COVID-19 rages on.
The stresses of this pandemic are overwhelming. Aside from the genuine fear of catching the virus, kids have had to deal with remote learning, not socializing with friends, wearing masks, not playing sports, or engaging in other favorite activities. And on a more serious note, the economic effects of this pandemic on their families, and perhaps illness or death of a loved one. The world has become unpredictable and uncontrollable, leading to tremendous anxiety, even in our most resilient kids.
What can we do to help our children get through this pandemic so that it doesn’t have such a tremendous impact on their emotional well-being?
- Get your own anxiety under control. Children look toward their parents and other adults for guidance on how to react to whatever is going on. Parents need to stay calm and reassure their kids that they will get through this and be okay. Despite your anxiety, you can still create an atmosphere of calmness and safety at home. Be aware of how you discuss COVID-19 and other stressful issues. We have to be role models for our children.
- Acknowledge their feelings and fears. Clarify any misinformation children might have heard and provide them with accurate and age-appropriate information. Monitor their exposure to news and social media accounts of COVID-19 based on their ages. Focus on what everyone can do to remain safe until we get through this pandemic.
- Maintain daily routines and rituals. These may be slightly different from pre-pandemic ones, but necessary nonetheless, as they can help kids feel more in control. Make sure the daily routine includes some time for stress-reducing activities and family fun, such as games, exercise, creative expression, and connection with others.
Children can learn to be more resilient and adapt effectively to this pandemic with our help. We need to instill some hope, optimism, and flexibility in their thinking. They need to know that “things are a bit scary and different right now, but we will get through this.”
When my grandkids arrived, we had the garage door open and welcomed them to our “restaurant” for Thanksgiving. My wife provided them with an arts and crafts table to make their own turkeys with various materials. The smiles on their faces and their laughter made this Thanksgiving something to be genuinely thankful for. The evening ended with one of our neighbors lighting off some fireworks, unexpectedly. With all those colors, the sky looked magical, and my grandkids had a holiday that they will never forget.