Minimize COVID Stress
Even in the best of times, raising children is hard work. Now, in a time when families like yours face distance learning challenges, employment changes, or other very real issues, parenting may be even harder than ever. Social distancing measures and the near-constant uncertainty of the current situation have put added stress on all of us, your children included. If your family is feeling extra stress or anxiety because of how COVID-19 has affected your life, please know that you are not alone.
The GRPS Family and Community Engagement office recognizes that our district’s families are going through moments of extreme stress during this pandemic. Basic needs are of top concern for many families, and we recognize that encouraging a shift in mindset is not a sufficient answer to these very heavy, very real concerns. However, since attending to your mental health and that of your family should be a priority during this time, here is a guide to maintaining a mindful outlook while navigating the challenges of the current time (Source: Help Guide).
From the CDC’s website about Children’s Mental Health.
Young children are often wary of strangers and want to stay close to their parents and other familiar and trusted caregivers. Until they are old enough to talk clearly about their feelings, it’s hard to explain to them that a new caregiver is going to protect them, which means it takes time for children to get used to new people. School-aged children who are sensitive or easily worried, or those who have developmental delays, may need extra time to adjust. It’s often easier for young children to make the transition if they have spent some time with their parents and the new person together. As a GRPS parent/caregiver, you probably also worry about your student making the transition, but it’ll be easier to keep calm and be reassuring if you know your child’s teacher and feel comfortable with them.
What parents can do to support children’s transition:
- Connect with other parents who have children in the same program who can provide information and make them more comfortable with the program.
- Talk with teachers about the best way to separate from their child at the start of the day—brief goodbyes are often best.
- Try to stay calm and reassuring during transition—using a calm voice, with a relaxed face and body to let their child know that they wouldn’t leave them if the child were not safe and protected.
- Take care of themselves during stressful times so they can be better equipped to take care of others.
- Find resources to learn how to promote resilience and reduce anxiety.
- Remember that this is a phase—building new relationships is a skill, and with support, children can be resilient. Even if it’s hard to separate, they will gain a new trusted relationship with their new teacher and feel more secure.
Parents with concerns can:
- Make sure their child has a daily, predictable routine, with regular times for healthy meals, naps, and night sleep at home. Having a rested body and knowing what to expect at home helps children cope.
- Monitor their child’s developmental milestones and learn what to do if there are concerns.
- Talk to a healthcare professional if their child’s symptoms of anxiety or behavior problems are severe or persistent.
- Contact a mental healthcare professional for parent training and support so parents can help their child.
- Find resources for themselves if they are sad, worried, or stressed.
- For children with new concerns that persist, ask the school for an evaluation to see if the child may need special education services or accommodations. For children with identified disabilities, ask the program to review their Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Dealing with your Child’s Fears and Stress
After watching the news or overhearing an adult conversation regarding the pandemic, young children might get scared. COVID-19 has changed their schooling, friendships, and normal routine, so it should be a top priority to address your child’s fears and reassure their physical and emotional well-being.
Talk at an Age-Appropriate Level.
- If your child is young, don’t volunteer too much information, as this could cause their imagination to run wild. Instead, try to answer any questions they might have. It’s okay not to know everything; if your child is older, help them find accurate information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or World Health Organization (WHO).
Answer Questions Simply and Honestly.
- If your child has questions about the pandemic, know that honesty is always the best policy. While you don’t want to frighten young children, there’s nothing wrong with talking about the need for taking safety precautions such as social distancing and washing their hands.
- If you’re forced to quarantine as a family, your child will be disappointed at not being able to see friends or visit with other family members. Be receptive to this. Explain to them that you understand their disappointment, and you are missing out on friendships and special occasions as well.
Arrange Virtual Playdates.
- Offer an alternative to in-person playdates via the Internet. Set your children up on video conferencing services, like Skype or Zoom, so they can keep in contact with close friends and grandparents, for example.
Give Extra Love and Affection.
- This is a stressful time for all of us and we could all benefit from extra affection. Your child will appreciate extra hugs and kisses.
Designate Special One-on-One Time.
- If everyone is at home with each other all the time, having one on one time with each child is a great way to forge a closer bond. Have your child choose an activity for the two of you to participate in together.
Find Things to be Grateful About.
- Each evening, share with your child one fun or positive thing you experienced that day and encourage them to do the same. It could be a work or school accomplishment, a home repair, or something as simple as witnessing a beautiful sunset. It may sound corny, but acknowledging gratitude and positive experiences can provide a respite from negative thinking and really boost your family’s mood.
Keeping Healthy Routines
As the pandemic drags on, it can be easy to neglect your normal daily routines. But structure and consistency are important for kids. Maintaining regular mealtimes and bedtimes, for example, can help your child feel safe and secure.
Establish Healthy New Routines.
- As you readjust to a new normal, you may need to establish new daily schedules for your kids. Even if things like bedtimes have changed without school every day, try to be consistent and follow the same schedule each day. Make time for activities such as exercise, family dinners, and household chores as well as time for your child to socialize with friends, whether that’s done safely in person or online.
Follow Safety Advice.
- With different areas facing different restrictions, it’s important to follow the advice of trustworthy sources such as the CDC, WHO, and your local public health authorities. Playgrounds, schoolyards, and parks are all high-contact areas where your children should follow your instructions about keeping themselves and others safe. That may mean wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing, and regularly washing their hands.
Reinforce the Importance of Hygiene and Handwashing.
- Hand washing might have been a boring, mundane task in 2019, but now it can be a life-saving measure. Get your child into the routine of washing their hands every time they’ve been outside or come into contact with other people. To encourage the habit in young children, make up a song to the melody of one of your child’s favorites and sing it together while they wash their hands.
Practice What You Preach.
- Follow social distancing and other safety protocols yourself, treat others with respect, and protect the vulnerable. Young children are impressionable and will mimic your behavior, so make sure you set a positive example.
Managing Behavior Problems
Often, when children misbehave, it’s a reaction to the amount of stress they’re under and a way to vent their frustration. Try to keep this in mind when acting as a disciplinarian during these difficult times—and do your best to remain calm. Start by managing your own stress levels through exercise, a healthy lifestyle, making time for fun, and adopting a regular relaxation practice. The calmer and more relaxed you are, the better you’ll be able to handle your child’s reactions to stress.
These positive disciplinary tips can also help:
Redirect Your Child.
- If your child is misbehaving, redirect them to another activity, such as playing outside or reading a book. As a parent, you can sometimes tell when your younger child is beginning to get restless. Take the opportunity to distract them with an interesting task or a fun game and you can curtail bad behavior before it starts.
Take a Breath.
- There are plenty of ways to relieve stress in the moment when you feel like you are losing patience with your child. For example, take deep breaths and count to ten to allow yourself to calm down. Then you can respond to your child’s behavior in a calmer and more positive manner.
Give your Child a Creative Consequence.
- For a timely example, if your child goes outside without a mask, ask them to draw a picture of a child wearing a mask or a picture of your family with masks on. Creative consequences simultaneously engage your child while also teaching them that their behavior was wrong.
Reward Good Behaviors.
- Examples include doing well on a school assignment, making the bed, taking out the trash, or getting along with their siblings. In normal circumstances, you might not reward this kind of behavior, but during this stressful time, nothing positive should go unrecognized.
Try Not to Lose Your Temper.
- Losing your temper in this way will only damage your relationship and impact your child’s sense of safety and security.
Sometimes, it may be best to do nothing.
- Ignoring bad behavior can be an extremely effective tool when trying to get your child to stop doing something. When a young child is looking for attention, not giving it to them can make them realize that they should either stop or find a more respectful way of finding attention.
Dealing with the pandemic can be especially tough on adolescents, who are missing out on key moments in their young lives. Many are spending long periods separated from their friends and are missing important school events such as exams, dances, and graduations. While the teen years are always difficult, your child may be even more angsty, moody, or defiant at the moment than is normal for their age.
Of course, connecting with teenagers is rarely easy. You may despair over how much your teen withdraws from you or how hard it is to communicate with them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still need your attention, advice, and love. When trying to get your teen to open up and talk to you, keep the conversation light at first. Stick to topics you know they’ll enjoy, such as their favorite artists, sports teams, movies, authors, or friends rather than subjects where you’ll likely disagree. Once you’re chatting, you can move on to more difficult subjects such as the pandemic and other things going on in their life.
Spending extra time with your teen can help them to open up and confide in you. Try:
Cooking and Eating Together.
- Cooking one of your teen’s favorite meals with them offers an opportunity to talk about what’s going on in their life. Try to schedule dinners around the table with no distractions from phones, the TV, or other devices so you can talk as a family.
- Gardening is a great way to keep a tight bond, as it’s a fairly docile activity that gives time to talk and strengthen a parent-child bond.
Playing Sports or Exercising Together.
- Many teenagers love to engage themselves physically, whether it be time spent playing sports, working out in the gym, or going on a run. Try shooting hoops, kicking a soccer ball, throwing a frisbee, or playing golf or tennis. When done together, it proves to be a great source of stress relief as well as an opportunity to bond.
Talking to Your Teen about COVID-19
While young children may be frightened about the pandemic, older kids and teens are more likely to be annoyed by the restrictions it brings. Spending time with their peers is extremely important to teenagers, so they may rebel against social distancing guidelines. If you’re finding it difficult to enforce the rules or your interactions always feel like a power struggle, don’t despair. There are ways to get through this time without becoming a drill sergeant or turning your home into a war zone.
Explain Why Social Distancing and Other Rules are Important.
- Teenagers tend to feel invincible at the best of times. During this pandemic, they know that the virus may not pose as much of a risk to them as it does to older people. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t spread the disease and cause extreme suffering to others. Explain that even though they feel fine, they could still be asymptomatic carriers and pass the virus on to those most at risk, including their own grandparents or other family members with underlying health conditions.
Empathize with Their Frustrations.
- Be empathetic about the things that they’ve been forced to give up due to the pandemic. Validate their feelings and listen without trying to convince them that they’ll be fine or reminding them that others have it worse. Sharing your own disappointments and frustrations will put you on the same team. If restrictions in your area make it difficult for your kids to see their friends in person, encourage them to be creative with how they interact virtually.