Two months ago, if you’d asked a school-going child what their daily routine looked like, the answer would have been along the lines of “wake up, go to school, come back and play.”
Now, with their schedules suddenly being disrupted, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over every family. Till when do we have to practice social distancing? Will the coronavirus be contained? When will schools reopen? What’s next?
Amid all the travel advisory and hygiene guidelines, the one thing that hasn’t been talked about as much as it should be, is mental health – of parents, children, and educators.
Talking to your kids is key
If your child is under 6 years of age, tell them only what they need to hear and nothing that might induce panic. Talk to them about the importance of staying squeaky clean. Children find normal routines comforting, so make sure to simulate a pre-pandemic environment, while at home. If they display signs of distress, sit them down and reassure them that they will be taken care of.
If the little ones appear irritable or unhappy because they cannot play with their friends anymore, be patient with them. Encourage them to socialize through video conferencing or phone calls. Talking to their friends can give them a sense of comfort and relief.
Elementary and middle school children are naturally more aware of the pandemic. However, be mindful of the information you share with them, and make sure that the news they get is age-appropriate. This includes limiting media exposure. Avoid discussing your anxieties with them. Create an environment that is conducive for them to share their worries with you and address them to the best of your abilities. Children of this age might also worry about you and their grandparents, so be sure to address their concerns and dispel their fears.
Your daily mantra – Keep the children engaged!
While you don’t need to lift all restrictions on screen time, give the children a platform to escape from the grim reality. Watch educational movies with them, introduce them to learning toys, and perhaps, an extra episode of Peppa Pig.
Bring out the board games, and have a friendly match of chess or snakes-and-ladders. If they’re into music, teach them a new instrument (with the help of the internet!). Also, children might not be allowed to go out and play, but be sure to set aside some time for physical activity and exercise.
In between all the activity, ensure that your child isn’t overwhelmed. If they need time to adapt to the new routine, give them as much time as it takes. Remember, this is a confusing time for everyone, especially the children!
It’s a hectic time; cope well with anxiety
Health comes first. If you have a child who needs help with mental health, seek guidance from a licensed therapist (preferably over video call). Children with ADHD, depression, or anxiety might find it extremely challenging to cope with the current situation, and definitely need all the extra love, comfort, and reassurance that you can provide them with.
Lend a patient ear to the child’s concerns and tell yourself not to invalidate what they feel. Find time in the middle of work, to check in on them and see if they’re doing alright. Let them know that you’re always there for them.
If dressing up like Superman cheers them up, help them put on the cape. If they just want to curl up and step into the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, sit with them and read to them. If they’re singing “Let It Go”, sing along in your highest pitch. In the process, if learning happens to take a bit of a backseat, don’t fret. You can always help them get back to learning when their mental health improves.
Be happy (and your kids will be happy!)
While it’s essential to ensure that the little ones aren’t entirely cut off from the outside world or from learning, remember to focus on your mental health too. Take a breather, whenever needed. Exercise and physical activity aren’t just for kids.
There’s a lot of misinformation doing rounds – steer clear of it. Be sure that all the news you consume is from authentic sources. Take routine breaks from social media. A few social media platforms and forums have safety settings that give you the option of muting words that might trigger anxiety. If needed, consider making use of this feature.
At the same time, know that the internet is a source of great resources – for introducing your child to remote learning, for work from home tips, and for hacks to remain calm through it all. But if it all gets too much, don’t feel guilty if you drop the ball every now and then.
Seek community support and regularly connect with friends and family. Talk to other parents, and understand how they are dealing with the crisis.
We’re all in this together, and it’s okay to seek help!