According to a report from the BBC, nearly 75% of Americans are on some form of lockdown. And the majority of schools across the country are closed at least until May, with many being closed until further notice.
Despite news outlets reporting on the coronavirus as early as December, many of us were completely unprepared for the scale of the crisis.
That means that very suddenly, our lives have sharply pivoted in a way they haven’t in most citizens’ living memories. Children are at home during a time when they wouldn’t normally be, and most parents are home with them.
What’s more, mental health professionals are not only predicting spikes in anxiety and depression, they’re already starting to see them.
And because we can’t congregate as a nation and lift each other up – social distancing practices prevent that specifically – families are forced to turn inward and support one another, while each member suffers themselves…
The least of which are certainly not children.
Children naturally tend to have farther-reaching imaginations than adults, are less able to articulate stress and fear, and haven’t had the same amount of time and experience necessary to understand their emotions and develop coping systems.
That’s up to us.
Here’s how to rally a household full of children and navigate these uncertain waters…
Check for Stress
It’s totally possible that your kids are doing fine. Everyone is different, after all. Maybe they’re truly making the most of this opportunity to build kingdoms in the backyard out of sticks and blankets.
But there might be signs of stress that you, an untrained civilian, may not notice. If your child starts to behave in some of these ways, they may be experiencing raw and uncombed stress:
- Return of bedwetting
- Acting younger than their age
- Consistent nightmares
- Unusual irritability
- Trouble focusing on home-school work
- Stomach aches/headaches/complaints of physical unwellness without demonstrable cause
- More frequent crying
- Uncustomary distancing/clinging habits
You know your children best. If you’re seeing signs that they aren’t behaving as their usual selves, move on to the next step…
Approach the Subject Based on Age
Tailor your approach based on your child’s ability to comprehend abstract concepts like, for example, a global pandemic.
For children under five, they need to be calmly advised that grown-ups are busy in the world trying to heal people who are sick and keep other people from getting sick. The best way that we can help is to stay out of their way by staying home, washing our hands, and being kind to each other.
For children older than five, find out what they know first.
Dismantle anything that’s a rumor or simply misinformation. If your state has enacted specific protections (like shelter-in-place), make sure that you fully understand its restrictions so that you can explain them in detail.
Don’t lie. Though it may be tempting to say things like “this will probably blow over soon” or “don’t worry, this isn’t a big deal,” your children will benefit from having a complete understanding of the gravity of the situation.
They’ll especially benefit from knowing that their protectors are well-informed.
Come Up with a Game Plan
Being quarantined doesn’t have to feel like a punishment. After all, in today’s world, getting uninterrupted time together is generally considered a luxury.
Brainstorm with your children about the ways they’d like to spend their time and the ways you’d like to see everyone spending their time.
Do you want to make sure everyone spends a certain amount of time per day focusing on schoolwork and learning? What does that look like – flash cards, math problems, studying geographical features? Ask them which areas they don’t feel they’re the strongest in and which they do. Then allot a fixed section of each day for “business” – theirs and yours.
But don’t forget – this is a wonderful time to explore and have fun with each other. Set up a big master list that everyone can contribute ideas to. Here are a few fun ones to get you started:
- Weekly baking day
- Daily practice of sign language
- Historical-figure fashion show with household items (bonus points if you can memorize a speech from that figure)
- Fort-building contest
- Weekly movie-marathon with rotating dealer’s choice
- Redesign one room in the house
- Designated gardening hours
- Weekly virtual museum tour (everyone could pick a different one and get their turn!)
The list can go on and on!
But the main focus should be engaging with your children about creating a united approach to dealing with this change together.
Everyone should get to feel heard, scared, anxious, and guarded. That might even mean an evening or two of wallowing. With your help, though…
This quarantine could be the time together you didn’t even realize your family needed.
It’s every parent’s responsibility to make sure they’re raising informed, healthy, stable children… and you’ll see even more about that from us in the future!