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As COVID-19 Lingers: Dealing with Children’s Questions
The COVID-19 pandemic, as we know, dominated 2020 and is set to be a major part of 2021 too. From being a virus that we thought would take a few weeks of staying at home to eradicate, it became a monstrous, ongoing global problem requiring major adjustments to all of our lives.
The many and varied messages that our children have received about the pandemic may be causing them frustration, confusion and a sense of things just not adding up in their minds. They may have questions such as “What happens if I get sick or if you get sick?” or “Why do I have to wash my hands so much?” or “When can I go back to school?”
In this blog we look at what can be done to ease their minds. Here are some tips.
- Provide regular and age-appropriate updates. Don’t rely on information to filter down to children in a vague way – be clear about the realities but comforting at the same time. For example, “we know that Covid-19 is a very serious disease but most people who do get sick will recover, and we can keep ourselves safe by washing our hands regularly, wearing our masks when we are not at home and keeping at home as much as possible.”
- Encourage children to ask questions. As parents and teachers, we do not know what may be confusing them, but listening to their questions and answering them with honesty and sensitivity will help them separate helpful and unhelpful messages. Sometimes the answer to a question is “I don’t know,” but this can be followed with something reassuring that we do know.
- Help kids to focus on what they can control, not on what they can’t. This will build a sense of empowerment and help to recreate some certainty. For example, planting seeds and nurturing plants as they grow can give kids a sense of the regenerative force of life, faith in their own competence and it can be a dependably rewarding activity to focus on.
- Set intentions for the day – this will give kids a sense of choice about how their time and energy will be used. It doesn’t matter if all of the intentions are not met, it simply helps to focus the mind at the start of the day and reduces feelings of powerlessness.
- Establish a predictable routine including satisfying activities depending on what children enjoy – perhaps on Monday nights you can prepare their chosen meal together, on Tuesday nights play a favourite board game, on Wednesday nights watch a movie together, on Thursday nights have a video call with grandparents and so on…
- Exercise is another activity which we can control and can also be included in the daily pattern. This will generate hormones that help kids feel good, burn up restless energy and keep their immune systems functioning well.
- Spark creativity and imagination where possible through art, craft, make-believe play, or storytelling. This serves as a distraction from negative aspects of the pandemic and allows kids a chance to explore, discover and develop. Creative activities help them to think, make connections and work things out for themselves which enhances their sense of confidence in a world where they might be feeling quite helpless. Unexpected thoughts, feelings and questions may come up during the creative process which can be expressed and explored in a safe way.
- Build in moments of comedy – this is great for mental health as laughter exercises the lungs, generates endorphins and generally helps us have a better time around things which could otherwise be very overwhelming.
- Simple relaxation exercises can be very soothing for children and teaches them a way to cope with feelings of anxiety when they arise. A great breathing exercise for children (and adults) which was developed by Dr Andrew Weil is “4-7-8 Breathing”. This is based on an ancient yogic technique. Have children lie down and place one hand on their bellies and one on their heart. Have them inhale deeply for 4 counts, hold their breath for 7 counts and exhale slowly for 8 counts. This gives the body an oxygen boost and causes relaxation by activating the parasympathetic nervous system or “rest and digest” mode of the body, as opposed to the more agitated “fight, flight or freeze” response. For very young children, simply blowing bubbles is a way to help them breathe more deeply in a playful way or they can lie down with a soft toy or bean bag on their bellies and watch it go up and down as they take big breaths. There are many more ideas here: https://copingskillsforkids.com/deep-breathing-exercises-for-kids
- Other fun ideas to help children relax are making puzzles, sewing, knitting, reading, colouring in pictures or listening to audio books.
- Gratitude is shown to improve psychological health and relieve negative emotions. You can make a game with children to come up with two or three things that they are thankful for at a time. You can record these to remind each other of them later if they are feeling down.
- Connect often with friends and family – this builds compassion and creates the awareness that we are not dealing with things alone and that everyone is facing similar challenges and we can all support, encourage and help each other. Children could watch the same TV program as their friends and then call each other to talk about it, play an online game together or make cards to send each other.
Ali, R. (2020). 5 ways you can feel more in control of your life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Usatoday.com. Retrieved 8 February 2021, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/health-wellness/2020/04/16/how-feel-more-control-your-life-during-coronavirus-pandemic/5144201002/.
Creation Station. (2021). 10 Benefits Of Creative Activities For Children | The Creation Station. Thecreationstation.co.uk. Retrieved 8 February 2021, from https://www.thecreationstation.co.uk/inspiration/10-benefits-of-creative-activities-for-children-the-creation-station.