Try as you might to swaddle your kids from the scary truth of what’s happening out there, chances are they have picked up on your stress and anxiety. So, how do you help them make sense out of this situation, when you can’t make sense out of it for yourself?
Keep it age appropriate
Educational psychologist Kerryn Giles, founder of Child’s Play Therapy Centre, points out your children have also found their lives turned upside down. Think about it: they’re no longer going to school, they’re not allowed to see their friends, even a visit to the park is out. They can definitely sense that something’s up, even if you haven’t explicitly told them so. And keeping them in the dark is only going to add to their uncertainty and anxiety, because it stops them from being able to understand why all of these previous pleasures are now off limits.
Kerryn therefore advises providing your children with factual information – but, she adds, keep it age appropriate. “Children are often very aware of what’s happening around them, and they can feel the worry and tension experienced by their parents and other adults. This can be very disconcerting for them, especially if they feel confused and their fears are simply dismissed. They need to know they can trust you to tell them the truth and help them handle their anxiety. They also need to know that their feelings are valid and that they are understood.”
She points out that they are probably already taking in information they’ve overheard, whether from the news or from picking up snippets of conversation between you and your partner and friends – and you can be sure that, since you weren’t focusing on filtering this information for their benefit, it isn’t age appropriate.
What to do?
Listen to your children when they tell you how they’re feeling. Validate those emotions and empathise with them.
Keep it real
You’ve probably been making a superhuman effort to act as if everything is ok when you’re around your kids. Good news: you don’t have to! “It’s okay for your children to know that you are also scared and uncertain – parents are also human! What’s important is that your child knows that, in spite of this, you will do your best to keep them safe and protected. Letting your child know how you feel (again, in an age appropriate way) can lead to a great conversation about emotions and how we cope with them.”
She maintains that this is a great opportunity for you to model appropriate coping strategies and behaviours. “Reassure your little ones that they are safe and secure, and that things will be ok – schools will reopen, and we will go out again, and everything will return to normal. It will take time, but it’s not forever.”
It will help if you can, as far as possible, let them have a positive experience of being at home, so that their memories of the virus are of spending time together as a family. You’ll more than likely find that your family connection strengthens as a result.
Make it work
Kerryn offers these tips to help your child feel safe and secure:
- Try to maintain a routine at home. This will provide your children with a sense of structure during their time at home.
- Keep your discipline strategies and rules as consistent as possible – being at home doesn’t need to change the way you would usually do things. Just remember that your children may be experiencing a lot of emotions and that these may manifest as behaviours that need help with managing.
- Spend time together as a family. Even if you are working from home, schedule time together in the evenings or over the weekend to be together.
- Plan activities for your little ones. Arts and crafts, baking, and puzzles are all great ways for them to engage in hands-on tasks.
- Give your child a hug and reassure them, not only when you see they need it!
More about the expert:
Kerryn Giles is an educational psychologist and owner and founder of Child’s Play Therapy Centre. Learn more about Kerry Giles here.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.