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Helping your Children Cope with COVID-19

By James McGuirk

We as adults are challenged by the current pandemic. Children are no different, except they may not talk about their fears and worries. Instead, we are likely to see their distress through their behaviors. You may notice that your kids are having more temper tantrums and meltdowns. They may isolate themselves in their room or their video game. They may be fighting more with friends and family members. Because you are also at your wit’s end, you may feel uncertain and unprepared as to how to best help your kids. You might even wonder if you’re incompetent as a parent, or, find yourself yelling more. What do you do?

  1. Allow yourself failure. You, by virtue of being human, will make mistakes. Expect it. Learn from them and move on. Mistakes are only “failures” if we don’t learn from them. We can use these as opportunities to find or create new, more effective responses.
  2. Children will react to your emotions. The calmer you are, the more likely they will be calm, and stay calmer for longer periods. If you are feeling overwhelmed, practice calming strategies for yourself. If they are effective, use them next time in front of your children so you can model effective self-soothing. If appropriate, you can even practice these together with your kids. Doing healthful things like this along with your kids builds strength, connection, and hope.
  3. Allow your children the chance to vent their frustrations and anxiety. Help them talk about them by listening and reflecting on what you hear. For instance, “You seem worried that xxx will get sick and die. Am I understanding your concerns?” Support their feelings by telling them you understand them. You might even share some of your concerns, such as “I feel the same way.”
  4. Label feelings for them. Children are just learning the language of their emotions. They often benefit from help with learning to give feelings names such as anger, frustration, and worry. At the same time, remind them of the positive feelings associated with safety, being loved, having friends, and being together in these difficult times.
  5. Do not feel you have to have all the answers. This is new to all. Even scientists are trying to understand what is happening. For those children who are mature enough to handle it, use the internet to search the answers together. Younger children need information too but in much smaller bites. Ask them if they understand what the information means, and help to explain if necessary. Remember, they may seem to understand now, but may “forget” shortly afterward. Be patient with them (and yourselves) as this is a lot of difficult information to hear and to incorporate all at once. And, remember high stress interferes with learning. Again, be patient.
  6. Short and Direct Communication. As you work through the usual daily responsibilities, as well as the changes this situation has placed upon us, recall that upset children are less able to understand long explanations. Provide direct commands. If you want your children to do something, say it. “Please go pick up your room.” “Stop fighting.” Short and direct and repeat until they listen. It is okay not to explain everything you want from your children, especially if people are anxious. Upset people are less able to hear and to understand reasoning. For younger, give one direction at a time. As the saying goes, “keep it short, but don’t be short with others.”
  7. Discuss the situation When everyone is calm, use the opportunity to discuss the situation, emphasizing the good strategies your children and/or you did to manage the stress.
  8. Prevent problems by anticipating your child’s reactions. Focus on the positive. The best prevention is to reinforce all positive behaviors. Be real and specific. For instance. “You did great the time when you went to your room to calm down.” Praise is protective.
  9. Remember it’s okay to seek help for yourself. These are very challenging times for everyone, and perhaps, even more so for those who have to care for others. Reach out to the supports in your life, whether they be personal or professionals who can be of help to you.

Remember, this is new for everyone. We will all make mistakes and hopefully will learn from them. If you want more information, go to the following website.
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/talking-with-children.html

If you need help managing the situation, remember Astor is there for you.
Call the Astor Hotline at 1.866.278.6701

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