Strategies to Help Children Cope with the Covid-19 Pandemic
I recently listened to a new webinar from the Office of Head Start (OHS) titled, “Helping Children Thrive During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” In it, OHS Director, Dr. Deborah Bergeron is joined by OHS mental health lead, Dr. Sangeeta Parikshak, to discuss ways that we can help children make sense about what is happening around them during this global pandemic.
Dr. Bergeron opens the presentation by explaining that we are all learning how to navigate these unprecedented times and are adapting to new norms. As parents and educators, we must find ways to talk to our children to keep them feeling safe and loved during the pandemic. Fundamentally, she says, children just want to know that they’re loved and protected. They want to know that they still have the stable base that they’re used to from their caregivers.
Here are some of their suggestions from the webinar:
Talk to children about COVID-19
It is our duty as parents and educators to provide children with information that is honest and accurate. There are resources out there to help you. For example, Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island has developed a coloring book to help parents talk to their children about COVID-19. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has developed a story book. By being honest with children, they gain a sense of community responsibility and can feel empowered to take more active steps, such as regular hand washing.
Keep a routine
Routines are important for children because they wake up in the morning and they know what’s going to happen next.
“Implementing a routine for them makes the world of difference when they know the next time they can see their friends or their grandparents,” explains Dr. Parikshak in the webinar. “It’s really tempting to let all of those normal routines go, but over a long period of time, kids really don’t benefit from that. They really crave that structure.”
Be mindful of what other information children are getting
Another thing to remember is that kids are picking up on everything all of the time. If the news is on, parents should consider being more mindful about reducing how much of it children are hearing. Kids are picking up on things and they don’t even have the awareness and understanding that adults do around it. Being mindful of those things and how much outside information they’re getting, versus what parents are able to give them is really important.
Parents should also understand that it’s very normal to experience anxiety, feelings of grief, loneliness, and uncertainty. It’s important to take a safe step back, not be as hard on ourselves, and have empathy for meltdowns or regressions their children are having.
Model the behavior you want to see
Parents should remember to model the behavior they want to see in their children. Dr. Parikshak talks about the need for a safe space for children to express themselves.
“So much of that is saying thinks like, ‘I’m feeling really nervous about having to wear a mask and go outside right now. I wonder how you’re feeling?,'” she explains.
Dr. Parikshak recommends that we ask children lots of wonder statements to figure out their reaction. They’re going to do a really amazing job at suddenly opening up if they see that their caregiver is feeling the same things that they are. It validates them.
Remember that mental health is part of your overall wellness. Don’t shy away from thinking about these kinds of tougher issues. Take care of yourself and be well, and take every day at a time. Reach out to friends and family and take a look at all of the available resources for dealing with mental health.