The outbreak of the new type of coronavirus, or COVID-19, is causing a lot of stress and anxiety in families and children of all ages. Even younger children who may not fully understand the realities of COVID-19 are still feeling its effects. During this time of uncertainty, it is imperative to take care of your mental health so that you are able to support your child through this unique time, as well. As the flight attendant will tell you before the airplane takes off, you need to put your oxygen mask on first before helping your child. The goal during this time is to be as calm and confident as possible to ensure you provide the best care possible.
How and what type of support you offer your child will vary greatly depending upon their age. This article is intended to offer ideas to parents who have young children (10 and under).
- Arm yourself with knowledge. If your child is asking questions about COVID-19, take the time to talk to them about it and provide facts and information in a way he/she can understand. If your child is on the younger side (i.e. 6 or younger) and isn’t aware of what is going on, it’s better not to bring anything.
- Provide reassurance. Tell them they are safe. Validate their feelings and let them know it is okay to feel upset. Give them lots of affection.
- Maintain a routine. Children do better when they know what to expect. Create a new routine for you and your child that involves learning and homework if they are in school, time for play and relaxation.
- Get outside and exercise. Fresh air can help alleviate stress and improve mental and emotional well-being. Go for a walk or bike ride, draw funny chalk art on the sidewalk, or have a picnic in your backyard. Just remember to maintain social distance (6 feet or more).
- Make space in your day for play. Play is an essential part of a child’s life and it is how kids regulate emotions. Encourage your child to use their imagination. Make a fort with blankets and pillows and pretend you’re pirates out at sea! Make messy art in the bathtub (this way it’s contained and you can easily wash up after). Dance to music. Turn on music and each time you hit pause, “freeze” in fun poses or with funny faces. A quick Google search will help you think of creative ways to play if you are feeling stuck.
Christine Holmberg, LMFT