As COVID-19 sweeps across the nation, we are all in the different stages of quarantine. Some regions of the United States embarked on this new lifestyle several weeks ago and others, specifically New Jersey and the metro area, are just beginning this adventure.
We are in an unprecedented time without known rules or procedures while Coronavirus updates are swiftly evolving hour by hour. The reality of what’s happening and the plethora of information available to us and our children are a recipe for an emotional disaster. So how do we and our children handle all that we are inundated with in the current, emotionally charged atmosphere?
With school closings, homeschooling, and kids’ favorite activities cancelled, remain cognizant of the stress associated with the change in their routines and their cognitive limitations with emotions. If your child is struggling to comprehend what is happening, there are several tools we can utilize as parents to help them feel in control of their world.
- Discuss What We Can Control: Share with your children what can be done to remain healthy. We are minimizing exposure to germs by remaining at home, washing hands, and not touching our face. Eating healthy foods and taking vitamins are other positive ways to protect our bodies.
- Teach Calming Strategies: Deep breathing is a skill that elementary school children can learn with some practice and, once mastered, it is easy to implement when they are feeling anxious or you notice a change in their behavior. Even playing soothing music is helpful.
- Maintain Routines: Children are responsive to routines because this creates stability. While quarantined, creating a daily routine that is similar to their weekly schedules can reduce anxieties and acting out behaviors. Plan to awaken around the same time as a school day with a similar morning routine (minus the lunch prep!). Follow a schedule that includes academic instruction, breaks, chores, self-guided reading, free choice, healthy snack, and gym/body movement.
- Use Visual Schedules: In preparation for the day and to help with adjusting to the change of schooling at home, using a visual schedule is beneficial. This allows children to mentally prepare for their day and easily check on what task/activity is next. For many children and adults, this also reduces worry or anxiety. Try posting the schedule in a high travel area and at their eye level.
- Dedicated School Area: Creating a dedicated area for school allows children the stability of “attending school.” Use bins or containers for each child that holds their workbooks, binders, and pencil boxes with supplies (e.g., sharpened pencils, erasers, markers, scissors, glue) so everything is organized and easily accessible, just like their desk at school. Have their laptop or iPad charged and readily available.
- Utilize Free or Low-Cost Educational Resources: There are many educational resources that are low-cost or free due to the current quarantine. ABC Mouse, CoolMath4Kids, and Science Friday are programs that can be used in addition to what schools are providing. Many museums are offering free virtual tours like The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Evening Routines: After school and evenings are likely to be different now that group-based activities are canceled. It’s a great time to create new routines like family reading with each child taking a turn to read aloud, popcorn and a movie, and playing board games. You can even use the evening to bake some healthy snacks together for the next day.
- Focus on the Positives: Finally, while we all do our best to navigate our “new normal” try to implement a “thankful” board with post-it notes of what each family member is grateful for and highlights from each person’s day. Dedicate a wall in a prominent place so that you can all see each other’s notes. Reviewing a few notes from the prior days is reassuring for children when they may feel anxious about the lack of a formal end to the quarantine.
As parents, we are in a position to empower our children, teaching them new coping skills to confront change that is outside our control. We need to focus on centering ourselves – not just for our own mental health but also because children are especially sensitive to their parents/caregivers’ emotions. When we create an atmosphere of calm, positivity, and routine, children feel reassured that all is well in their world.