Helping kids find joy during scary time
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
Family circumstances vary: from the ones watching the news daily and constantly - including parents/carers and children, to those who are limiting what they listen to, watch and read; and children are not exposed to hardly any screen time, let alone the news.
But regardless of where your family sits in the spectrum, given the preventative measures everyone has been asked to follow, in order to do our part as responsible members of our community, we are going to find ourselves exposed to all types of information.
From inspirational quotes to hard statistics, to people’s expressions and opinions of fear and panic, and everything in between.
My suggestion is to - first and foremost - pause for a few minutes and ask yourself these two questions:
A) Do I know where each family member is at, right now - emotionally, mentally?
When I checked in with sons, it was very clear that the way they were looking at - and experiencing - this situation (not going to school, not being able to see their grandmother, having to wash their hands a gazillion times a day...) was very different from each other, and of course, from the way, we as parents, were seeing, and experiencing these circumstances.
One of my sons needed reassurance that he was going to be safe; the other, factual, clear information, given his intellectual tendency. My husband, emotional support, and practical help in thinking outside the box. Also coming up with non-stressful solutions to pay school fees and take care of our mortgage.
When I checked in with myself, I found I was feeling strong and grounded. I knew my inner work* was paying off, and I was OK to hold my family while they all needed to adjust to these new direction.
But I understood that my mental health is paramount, and that for me means: time by myself after a few days of being with my kids 24/7. So looking into that was a priority.
This takes me to the second question:
B) Am I approaching the situation in the best way possible?
And by ‘best way’ I mean, the best way for your family in terms of, and aligned with, what we found from each member when we checked in.
Just by taking 10 - 30 mins of our time doing this ‘detective work’ can actually save us a lot of headaches down the track.
Once that's sorted, here are some some tips and suggestions on how to help our kids find - and continue to experience - joy during scary times.
TIPS AND SUGGESTIONS
For children 0-3 years of age
1. I would continue, as much as possible, doing what you’ve been doing in terms of their activities and routines.
I understand that this might be 'easier' to do if your child was not going to daycare or childcare.
But even if they had to stop going, keeping certain routines/flow as they were before, would be beneficial.
This signals 'safety' to young children. And when they are feeling safe, they can go on playing, and being in the present moment.
2. There might not be much need for explanation at this point. Definitely not hard facts - their analytical processing is still not active or fully developed, so whatever you share with them, will go 'right in' without it being questioned.
Modelling becomes your superpower:
- Wash your hands with your child.
- Cover your mouth with your elbow when/if you cough.
- Show them how breathing** can help them self-regulate when they are feeling stressed - by you doing it when you are feeling stressed.
3. Try to shield your young children from alarmist type information.
If your child is asking why they have to stay at home, why they have to wash their hands, yet again etc, you can share these stories with them.
4. Another way to support your child is to keep your fear, and expression of it, in check*.
Some children are incredibly sensitive, and would sense that something is ‘up’ if their parents are arguing about money, or slipping into panic by cleaning all home surfaces every 5 minutes.
For children 3-7 years of age
1. Depending on the child, you may need to share a bit more information with them, in order for them to understand why is it that you are asking them not to go to preschool or school; or to see their friends or grandparents, for instance.
But I recommend doing this with basic information - again, not alarmist, and putting emphasis in safety.
For this to happen, you need to know, and be clear on what is actually going on! And to come from a space of empowerment (knowledge and tools) rather than fear and panic.
This video is the only one I have found with factual, clear, non-alarmist information. It's a bit long (49 mins) but it's totally worth it. If you are pressed for time, watch from minute 3.25 to 25.35 to get the basics.
Please note that I am NOT suggesting you share this video with children this age. This is for you to get clear on the situation, so then you can share the information with your child in age-appropriate ways.
What does 'age appropriate' mean?
This will depend on the child, but one way is to share information by telling stories, either book stories about challenging times, or stories about our own childhood.
For instance, when I was little, my sister had to have an operation (tonsillectomy) and I couldn’t see her, nor play with her for a few days.
I felt a bit sad but my dad reminded me that I would be able to play with her in the near future, and in the meantime, him and I could spend time together.
He asked for 2 of my favourite things to do. I told him writing and dancing, and we danced and wrote stories together.
2. By focusing on the positives of the situation, for instance:
doing what they love
spending time with a loved one
assuring them they are safe
We are indeed contributing to their joy.
Note on TV shows: I know there are some TV shows for children aiming to explain the coronavirus situation. That's great, but I would recommend you watching the episode before you show it to your kids.
This is to make sure you are OK with the amount, and way, the information is being conveyed.
If that is not possible, then aim to be with them while they watch, and/or be available right afterwards to check in, and answer any questions they may have. This is also a good time to to address some of the points you didn't think were appropriate.
For children 7-10+ years of age
1. By this age, most children's analytical mind is more developed. This means that sharing more specific information is OK.
Still, I wouldn’t recommend simply letting them watch the news because that can still be very scary. It is scary for adults!
My advice here would be to start by asking lots of questions such as:
What do you think (fill i the blank) mean?
How do you feel about (not being able to go school)?
By getting a bit of intel, we can tailor the information they are ready for, and need to receive.
So yes, share a bit more specific, factual information about the ‘scary’ situation, but more importantly have conversations about:
- the non-scary parts,
- the possible solutions, and better yet,
- the uplifting stories,
- the ways people in the front lines are helping,
- the ways in which we can be creators and innovators during challenging times, - - how to look after our mental health from a very young age**,
- how to be kind to one another, and the list goes on!
2. I am not one to suggest a lot of screen time, but sometimes watching joyful videos would help us reach that state in us, and easier to navigate ‘scary times’. And magic is important too.
If you are concerned about the long hours your children are spending in front of screens, click here and here.
Here's to peace of mind and heart, and support - always
*My inner work: Daily meditation from 20 mins to 2 hours; keeping my unconscious patterns in check. That is, if I start feeling stress or anger rising, I take a deep breath and ask myself 'why am I feeling that way?' before it spirals down; if I am feeling triggered, I excuse myself and go to my room to breathe deeply, and be in stillness for a few minutes. Or I go to the backyard barefoot on the grass - that helps me ground.
Some of these 'rituals' allow me to go into my 'rational brain' rather than my 'reptilian one',and it is easier to spot my blind spots, and work on my weaknesses.
Others, allow me to connect to my heart; when I'm coming from that space, I can act more compassionate, towards myself and others.
** This is a good time to - together, adult and child - engage in activities that support our nervous system. So instead of going into the fight or flight reaction (by focusing on fear and panic), we can soothe our nervous system by breathing deeply, for instance, or sitting for 5 minutes of silence, or 5 minutes listening to a soothing song.
Making this a daily practice will mean it will ideally, become a habit. And it will be like planting joy-seeds into our, and our children's happiness-bank.