In a previous blog post I wrote about managing our own Coronavirus anxiety. While a lot of those tips still apply, I wrote them before most states had mandatory stay-at-home orders and before schools were closed. The landscape of our lives looks very different than it did a month ago. Now parents are either working on the front lines as essential workers or trying to manage working from home, all while also taking care of their children — a truly impossible task! So, this new series will be designed to confront this issue: “Parenting in the Age of Coronavirus.”
Part 1 – Helping Ourselves to Help Others.
Have your kids been showing behavior changes? Perhaps you have noticed that they are more clingy than usual? Maybe they are a little more combative? Quicker to fall apart? Constantly playing doctor? Saying they are sick all the time, when they really are not?
Remember that kids express their anxieties, fears, and stresses just as they express their other emotions, through the language of play and behavior. If their behavior has been changing – and there’s a good chance it has because they have noticed that their environment has changed, they may be picking up the anxieties manifesting around them.
The single most important lesson I can impart is that you should not blame yourself if your kids are soaking up the anxieties around them. How could you not be anxious? We are literally living through a global pandemic. We are trying to figure out new ways to function and manage incalculable stressors. A level of anxiety is completely normal. The goal here is to keep your anxieties to a manageable level, and to help your children deal with the changing world around them.
My last blog post discussed some tips for managing your own anxiety. Here are a few tips at the crossroads of your anxiety and that of your children:
- Remember they’re listening. It is normal to want to talk about the virus all day. In fact, speaking to our partners and checking in with our parents and friends is an important mechanism for processing our anxieties. We often do not realize that we are having these conversations in earshot of our kids. I would encourage you to not talk to other adults about your fears and your anxieties in front of your kids. It’s okay for you to share your fears with your kids, but you should do so an in age appropriate way (see #2 below). When they just overhear your adult conversations, they lack the necessary context to process and instead just internalize your stress.
- Age appropriate virus talk. We clearly can’t – nor should we — avoid talking to our kids about the virus. They know their lives have been turned upside down and it is helpful for them to know why. Just remember that as little we know about what’s happening, your kids know even less, and they do not necessarily have the emotional tools to process the information. Sit down with your kids and have a face-to-face conversation about coronavirus – just remember to use age appropriate language. If you are not sure where to start, try asking your child what they have heard and what they think is going on. When they give you their context, you can fill in the gaps in their understanding, rather than you deciding from scratch what they should know. There are also lots of resources to help parents (talking to your kids about any serious topic is hard enough – no need to reinvent the wheel for your Coronavirus talk!) Check out the link at the bottom of this page.
- Turn off the news alerts on your phone. Limiting news intake in general is crucial. Another step I have taken is to also turn off all news notifications. Like most people these days, I get my news mainly from my phone. By disabling notifications, I get to exercise control over when I take in the latest news. By compartmentalizing the portion of my day when I take in the latest dose of bad news, I can be more fully present the rest of the day. Nothing will throw you off balance quite like getting your animal crackers and milk and settling in for the week’s 10th viewing of Frozen 2 just to have your phone ding with the latest COVID-19 numbers.
- Take a break. I think one of the hardest things I hear people dealing with is the lack of a break. I, for one, actually find myself missing my morning commute. From quarantine, the morning commute looks less like a hassle and more like 20 minutes to myself to a podcast, call someone, or just enjoy the quiet. Working from home with kids means no built-in 20-minute breaks. Instead, I’m doing something from 6 am (or 5:30 am if my daughter is having a bad teething day) straight until 9 pm. It is vital to find a few minutes here and there to just be alone and recharge. Alone time has a different meaning during Coronavirus, but literally anything will help you be emotionally stronger for your kids. This might mean rotating dinner duty with your partner while the other retreats to the bedroom for a rest, or using screen time strategically so you can zone out or read a magazine. Even a small break can greatly help your own functioning.
Resources for how to talk to kids about coronavirus: