Wow, this is a strange time to be a kid – and a parent! Other than the odd snow day I don’t think my school was ever closed when I was growing up and I can’t remember a single world-wide event occurring; I’m sure they happened, they just didn’t effect me I guess. And “home schooling” definitely did not involve technology that my 8 year old is more comfortable with than I am!
There’s also so much advice and resources available for parents at this time… more than most of us have time to read through. But I had some time, so I went to a few trusted sources and the good news is they all pretty much agree on how we, as parents, can help our kids through this time. Here’s my summary of their advice. I read them, so hopefully you don’t have to! But I’ve also put the links at the bottom in case you do want to dig deeper.
Most importantly, they all said it’s a bad idea to avoid having a conversation, so as hard as it is we need to make sure we are talking with our kids.
- Create an environment that is relaxed and generally anxiety-free both for you and your kid to have the conversation. Childmind suggests children take their cues from you, so if you aren’t able to be calm and control your own anxiety and emotions for whatever reason, wait and have the conversation when you can. That’s why we like bath time – for many kids the time during or right after bath is a nice, relaxed stress-free time, and hopefully for you it’s a moment where you can put away any work and take a breather too. The perfect time to chat about a difficult topic.
- Tailor your conversation to your child. Think about their age and existing level of knowledge, anxiety or worry, and then have the conversation at their level and based on their knowledge. How to do that? Well…
Start by asking questions. Find out what they know already and check in on how they are feeling. Listen and be empathetic – you want to acknowledge any anxieties without amplifying or encouraging them. Try using lots of open questions:
- What have you heard about it?
- How did that make you feel?
And follow up with positive statements mirroring their language. “I understand how scary/strange/funny (whatever word they used) this time can be. I feel like that sometimes too, but we’re all in it together and we can work on it together” Childmind.org talks about “respecting feelings without empowering fears”.
Try to avoid leading questions which may not be relevant. For example “how anxious are you feeling about ____?”; “how much are you going to miss your friends?” can introduce things that weren’t a worry at all to start with. Instead stick to big open questions, try questions beginning in “What” or “How” to keep you on track.
- Directly address their immediate concerns. According to Childmind.org, children are very “egocentric” – they often think in terms of how things impact them, so address those personal concerns. They may also be worried about close family or friends, so listen out for that too so you can discuss it. Kidshealth advises there’s no need to talk about issues they haven’t raised. They may come up in the future or they may not, but focus on what’s eating them right now.
- Be open & honest, tell them what you do know and what you don’t. Ask them where they are getting information at the moment, and make sure they know what an appropriate source of information is vs. what isn’t. You’re a pretty good source of information or you can at least help them navigate, but social media and chat rooms probably aren’t where to go to answer questions. If they’re older they may want to visit independently verified web-sites. I found this article on the BBC that uses kid-language to explain Coronavirus: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-51734855; and Save the Children was also very good here https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/how-you-can-help/emergencies/coronavirus-uk-outbreak-facts
- Focus on the actions you and they can take, and if needed plan what you are going to do to help them act on their worries. Talk about proactively washing hands, and that you’ll be chatting to granny over the phone for a while, and why it’s important that you do both.
- Be available and ready to have the chat again, after all we don’t always remember everything the first time we hear it, and new information or changes could warrant needing to have the discussion again. Young Minds says some kids may want to be closer to you and need more of your attention at this time, and that’s totally normal. However, they may need to have a chat and not tell you, so don’t always wait for them to start – ask them how its going and if you have new information or ideas be proactive with them. Dialogue is two-way after all.
So, armed with this information, between the class year WhatsApp banter and trying to re-discover long division, I’m going to be having a few conversations this week…
Take care - Kate -
These are the resources I read for this blog. Let me know if you know of any I’ve missed!