Part 22: Helping parents and children navigate the stresses of COVID-19
The last few weeks have thrown our lives into havoc wreaked on us by the COVID-19 pandemic. The only certainty has been the uncertainty of what the next hour, next day or next week will bring. Some of us are fortunate to move out of lockdown, easing into a new balance, others less fortunate are still having to live with restrictions.
Through this period, each of us has experienced a myriad of emotions – describing this time as overwhelming, chaotic, unnerving, distressing, isolating, confining, confusing. While it is widely acknowledged that people all over the world are struggling to stay in balance, there are those amongst us who are deeply impacted by the pandemic, continuing to soak stresses of everyone around them and are surging on – these intrepid souls – our children, the future of our world.
Psychosocial impact of the pandemic
Children have gone from routine classroom settings to offline offsite learning, increased digital dependence, reduced physical activity and social distancing which has deprived them of the one thing they thrive on – connections with their peers, their friendships and playtime. Children are experiencing feelings of trauma, loss, grief and stress which they are unable to express. In the coming weeks, whether they move to face to face learning or continue with schooling from home, their state of hypervigilance will continue to remain and with that, continued exhaustion, reduced ability to focus and emotional imbalance. There will be multiple instances of emotional outbursts, temper – tantrums, lethargy, intentional isolation, uninterested conversations and non-compliance with established family behaviour.
What we can do as parents and care-givers, is to begin with remembering – Our child is not giving us a hard time – our child is having a hard time.
We must work with our child. They are affected by the changes whether they show it or not. Here are a few tips on facing this challenging time, leading children gently but persistently through this phase.
- Mindful Breathing
Help your child learn to navigate stress and negative emotions by calming their breath.
Mindful breathing for the little ones:
Smell a flower – blow a candle technique
Inhale – close your mouth and inhale through the nose – as if smelling a rose
Exhale – breathe out through your mouth as if blowing a candle.
Repeat 10 times. If it helps, play music that your child enjoys listening to.
Mindful breathing for the older kids
Sitting in a lotus position, Inhale deeply and then exhale. Slowly guide yourself to bring your attention to your breath. That alone has the power to bring calm and steadiness. calm you and steady you.
As the you inhale and exhale you could listen to calming music, repeat affirmations or even go through your Gratitude list (mentioned further in the article).
- Yoga, Movement and Stillness
Look after yourselves – together – through yoga and mindfulness. A few minutes spent bending and stretching in simple asanas will help you and your child spend some time on yourselves and reconnect in a different space.
Tadasana (Mountain pose), Vrksasana (Tree pose), Vidharbasana (Warrior 1 and Warrior II) are some simple poses to try (even for beginners) for bringing instant calm.
Also equally effective, is spending a few minutes in stillness. Encourage your child to be comfortable in sitting in silence and being still for a few minutes every day. Alternatively, they could listen to their favourite music or gaze upon an image that they find soothing. Closing eyes and focusing on your breath are another normalising technique that works well with older children.
- Gratitude reflection for the kids:
Making a personal gratitude list might help your child find security in this time of crisis. When working with children, it is important to note that they think differently than adults. A gratitude list that focuses on specifics will work more effectively with children. Encourage your child to list all the things that they still have/can enjoy even when the world seems so different to what they are used to. Here are some reflections of children I have worked with:
I am grateful for
- Sunny mornings and hand sanitisers (Anya 11yrs)
- Emails from my BFF every day (Abby 15yrs)
- Dora and rainbows (Amyra 4yrs)
- My new bike (Josh 7yrs)
Making a gratitude list is a thought-provoking exercise that makes children think deeply about what they have to be grateful for simultaneously helping them to realise how their circumstances may be more fortunate than many other children around the world. Encourage your child to reflect on this list regularly adding to it as they go along.
- Listen.Talk. Connect.
It is essential that you spend time listening to your child. Let them know that they are safe in sharing their thoughts with you. Allow your child to give voice to how they are feeling. Walk with them through the actual situation and analyse what is real and what is an imaginary extension of their fears.
How your child perceives the pandemic and its impact on them is largely dependent on your own perception of the situation. For this reason, it is important that you address your own thoughts and anxieties before you communicate with your child. Sharing ideas with your child on how you feel equally vulnerable and what strategies you use to cope with your feelings of anxiety can go a long way in making the child feel they are not alone and that their fears/ concerns/ hopes are real.
- Disconnect to connect – Cut down device time. Get off the internet.
In the present scenario, children are exposed, more than ever before, to technology and internet, being dependent on these for everything from schooling to keeping connected with their friends. However, long hours on devices will only result in a heightened reliance on technology which, although crucial at this time, has emotional limits and most likely result in worsened mental and physical health.
If you can go out, do so. Step out into your garden, your balcony, a nearby park. A quick walk with your child, even if it’s a short stroll on your street, in silence can bring a calming effect on them. If nothing else, they know they are not alone, they have you with them.
- Warm hugs and smiles
Nothing says ‘you are loved’ like a warm hug. From the little ones to the older kids, they can all do with an extra cuddle, a warm hug, words of encouragement, a pat on the shoulder, a wink, a smile, a gentle kiss when being tucked into bed in these trying times. Such gestures are more essential now than ever before, because they speak louder than any words can in letting these little persons know that they are safe and loved. And guess what, warm hugs work magic on reducing stress levels of parents too!
In it together
It helps in knowing that we are not alone. This is a global crisis and parents all over the world are struggling to find a balance in the madness of trying to successfully juggle housework, work from home, home-schooling and at the same time, providing support to their families and managing their own stress levels. However, know that while everyone is in it together, it is up to you to map your personal journey of finding ways to stay in balance and guiding your child along this path to ensure their wellbeing and yours.
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