When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join in the chaos.” - L.R. Knost.
In a world turned upside down by the coronavirus, it’s crucial that we find ways to help our children feel safe. Sheila Ciesil, LCPC, a YFC therapist who specializes in child therapy, offers these tips for parents hoping to do just that:
First and foremost, regulate your own emotions. Children look to their parents for information about how to interpret ambiguous situations. If your children observe that you handle difficult emotions well, then it sends them a message that they can do so too.
A simple but powerful way to find calm amid chaos is to take a few slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths. This will have an immediate, calming effect on your nervous system, allowing you to approach challenges from a more thoughtful, reflective place, rather than one that is reactive and ruled by emotion. The message we want to convey to our children is that storms will come but we have tools and recourses to help us navigate them and so do they. These experiences help children to build inner strength and resilience which will help them to face and manage future storms.
Encourage your children to verbalize and explore their feelings. Validate their feelings by saying something like, “You seem angry that you can’t see your friends right now” or “You’re right, it is really hard and scary, but you’ve got this.” or “I believe in you, and I am with you”. Ask your children if they have any questions. Answer their questions using simple words that are age appropriate.
Create routines. Routines help children to know what to expect, which will in turn decrease stress and increase their sense of security. Involve your children in developing their routine, and allow teens to make their own schedule. Maintain regular bedtime routines and include relaxing activities such as bath time, story time, guided meditation, gratitude practices, or prayer. Turn off all screens at least an hour before bedtime to enhance sleep quality. Incorporate physical activity and play into routines. Children process and make sense of their world through play, so be sure and allow plenty of time for unstructured play.
Reassure children that adults are handling issues related to the pandemic. Let kids know that scientists, doctors and first responders are all working to keep us safe. Remind your children that they are helping by washing their hands; not touching their mouth, nose, and eyes; and staying home. Other ways they can help include creating posters or driveway chalk drawings to spread messages of hope and happiness. Writing thank you notes to first responders or letters to family and friends are also positive activities. Giving kids concrete ways to be part of the solution gives them a sense of connection, which leads to a sense of personal empowerment.
By Sheila Ciesil, LCPC