Experts are in agreement that the novelty of being on “permanent holiday” is starting to lose its appeal to kids. If your little one is starting to show signs and stress of anxiety, try these tips to help him cope.
Social media has been aflush with posts that praise the courage of our children in these strange times in recent days. Rightly, they’re described as “little heroes”. Yes, they also have moments of frustration, but our children have generally accepted the new reality of lockdown with the kind of emotional and mental agility that most parents can only dream of.
However, having been confined to our homes for well over a month, the consensus from experts suggest the novelty of being on “permanent” holiday and being schooled at home is starting to wear thin. As a result, many children are beginning to show the stress fractures that come from missing out on their usual social interactions.
Some children manage stress much easier and in healthier ways than their peers. But, for others, the stress of this time may lead to negative changes in behaviour.
Here are 6 useful tips to help you manage your child’s stress:
Name and own the emotions
Allow your children the freedom to explain how and what they are feeling in words that make sense to them. Try to avoid responses like, “You don’t have to feel that way”, or, “That doesn’t make sense”. Rather reassure them it’s ok to feel the way they are, that you understand, and that you even feel the same sometimes. This will help them own their emotions and deal with them in a healthier, more honest way. Having the freedom to give expression to their emotions in ways that don’t harm themselves or others will help them cope with the situation and give them the courage to confront what they are feeling.
Find the source and communicate a solution together
Once your child has named their emotion in terms that make sense to them and accepted the fact that it is ok to feel that way, you can start exploring the source of it and finding a helpful remedy together.
Children need to understand why they are feeling a certain way: “I’m sad because I miss my friends”, “I get angry because this doesn’t make sense to me”, “I’m afraid because I’m scared I’ll get sick”, “I’m scared mommy, daddy, or granny gets sick”, or “I’m frustrated because I’m not getting my school work done”. Whatever they are feeling, they need to be given space to explore the source of it, because this will help them find a sensible and healthy remedy.
If they are missing their friends, you might suggest contacting them through WhatsApp voice notes, video calls, and even tea parties or rugby practices over Zoom. If they’re stressed about school, their grades, and what all this means for their future, you might suggest they take a break from that gnawing project. You can also try to change the learning environment- instead of a screen try a book or, instead of a desk in their room try a blanket on the lawn outside.
Vitamin D and exercise
This seems to be something of a luxury at the moment, if not a crazy risk. But there are ways to get it done. And your child must get some exercise time outside if they are going to cope with the stress of this lockdown.
Whether it’s just for a walk, or something more rigorous, the simple gift of being able to get out and do something active will offer your child a helpful reprieve to what seems an unusually suffocating situation.
It’s easy, in a time like this, to develop bad habits that appear innocent. And you’ve probably seen some of these taking shape in your own routines as well. (For example, how are you dressing for those early morning Zoom meetings?) The softest victim in this regard is our sleeping patterns; we stay up later, we sleep less, and we don’t follow the usual bed-time or wake-up routines.
Your child will need to prioritise healthy sleeping patterns if they are going to cope with the stress of this time at all. But, of course, sleep routine is a battlefield for almost all children (especially the younger ones), so you might need to set the trend here. Let your child take their cue from you by seeing that you, too, prioritise healthy sleeping patterns.
Use a set time each day to discuss plans for the day or week ahead. (It’s probably best for this to happen at the breakfast table.) Reflect on some of the goals you have achieved, and adjust those you didn’t reach.
This will help your child feel slightly more “in charge” of their day, and less frightened by what they might think is an impossible sense of unpredictability during this time. It also shows them that their to-do list is important to you, too, and that you can work together to get everything done.
One lovely option that will help your child stretch their perspective beyond the blinding limits of lockdown, is to plan an “after lockdown bucket list”. Write down a few things, not too many, that you will do within a year after the lockdown ends. This will give your child something to look forward to and remind them that this will not last forever.
Give constant reassurance
The importance of reassuring your child regularly during this time cannot be overstated. They need to hear they are loved, that they are good enough and that it will be ok. And, they probably need to hear this more often than they usually do, because (let’s face it) their worlds have changed just as much as ours.
Teaching our children how to manage their stress will have a lifelong positive impact.
Jacqui Bester is a homeschool mom to 5 children. She holds formal qualifications, and has years of experience, in the fields of education and psychology. She is the former co – editor of the Citizen’s online parenting platform and her writing has been featured internationally. Jacqui blogs about her day to day adventures, and misadventures over at One Messy Mama.