This past week I have been considering the challenges we have all been facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has already cost us so much and will continue to do so and the temptation during a time like this is to focus too much on the problem and forget to spend time on the small solutions we can make around us as we adjust to the new lives we have been forced into.
As parents we have the responsibility to be caring not only for the physical well being of our children but also their emotional and mental health as they too feel the pressure and stresses that come with these life adjustments. For the most part many of the students I have spoken to over the past couple of weeks have shown resilience during this time and have calmly responded to what has been asked of them. They deserve credit where they have shown calm responsiveness to the needs of stricter hygiene and social distance. This isn’t easy for them and I am amazed at their efforts.
Despite these positives, there are children who have been struggling with the concern and stressors of this crisis and we shouldn’t mitigate their struggles through ignorance or apathy. Children are going to respond differently to COVID-19 and we need to be attentive to their emotional needs as they process what they know and what they are learning. Their responses might be: regressions in behaviour or sleeping patterns, some might become more dependent or need extra attention, others might lose their appetite. Be aware that their more challenging behaviour might be a result of their worry or concern. Be accommodating by being slow to anger and curious with them about their feelings. This is a great time to help build emotional intelligence by helping them shape an emotional vocabulary and debriefing challenging emotions.
Seek professional help if children show signs of trauma that do not resolve relatively quickly. Emotional and behavioural changes in children are to be expected during a pandemic, as everyone adjusts to a new sense of normal. If children show an ongoing pattern of emotional or behavioural concerns (e.g., nightmares, excessive focus on anxieties, increased aggression, regressive behaviours, or self-harm) that do not resolve with supports, professional help may be needed. Many mental health providers have the capacity to provide services via “telehealth” (i.e., therapy provided by telephone or an online platform) when in-person social contact must be restricted.
Stay consistent with your support and be responsive to their concerns. Children always need a stable base of support. Plan ways to be available for your kids and check in with them at a rate that feels comfortable with them. If they have questions or raise concerns show that you hear them by employing empathy and listening actively to them. Also find ways to continue quality time and connection. Keep to social distancing practices as best you can but remember social distancing does not mean social isolation. Kids need connection and if they can’t see their friends in person or even if they can do so online, they will still need a tangible connection point with you.
Make sure the way you talk about COVID-19 is sensitive to the needs of your child. Make discussions age appropriate as children quite often rely on their imagination to fill any gaps in the information you share with them. It’s best to keep a line of open communication with them where they feel they can voice their concerns and ask questions. Avoid excessive blaming of people groups during the pandemic. Kids are perceptive and will follow your lead on how you talk about and frame COVID-19.
Similarly, control what you watch online or on television around your children. Many kids are still taking in the messages from media while you are watching. Protect your child and their understanding of the pandemic by managing their intake of news and other sources. Encourage them with messages or stories about the good you are seeing in the world, help them to feel protected and safe both in the now and for in the future.
Maintain a normal routine. If you’ve just recently or have previously taken your kids out of school, help them by adjusting to a regular daily schedule that includes fun activities, opportunities and scheduled times to learn, exercise and time to socialise with the family. A regular routine helps children to adjust to their new circumstances and helps them to live in the everyday and not get caught up worrying about the future.
Don’t forget to take care of yourselves. Just as your children are making big adjustments during this time, so are you! Be sure to try and build time into your life where you can rest, recuperate and recharge. By doing so you build up your internal resources to take care of your children. Make time to sleep, eat, exercise, read, pray and socialise. And if you are concerned about your own mental health, book in for a mental health check in, there are many services available and most can now do online sessions.
As the end of the school term draws near, please remember that we as a College are committed to all our students and wish them to succeed this year and beyond. If your child needs any support, please contact us.
Primary Chaplain/Student Counsellor