Helping your kids cope in this time of social isolation and uncertainty
by Beverley Moffat
“What’s the matter? Are you okay? Why are you doing that? You’re driving me crazy! I don’t know what to do! That’s it! I’m going to my room, I need a time out.”
Things seem to be constantly changing and we have to keep adjusting our response to health safety concerns, being apart from loved ones, social distancing, schedules, activities and more. Our kids are affected by it and this is often reflected in their behaviour. How do we help them cope with all this?
My purpose for writing this article is to share some thoughts and strategies that, like water and sunshine for a plant, may help you provide your child with nourishment to grow stronger, even in the midst of challenging conditions.
Be purposeful about reassuring your child that you love them and nothing will ever change that. Right now you are one of the few constants in your child’s day-to-day life. They need to hear again and again that your love for them will never change and you will get through this together, as a family. Communicate clearly that your love is not dependent on their behaviour. Not even on the bad days. Tell them you love them often and give lots of extra hugs. You probably need those hugs too.
Home is the place to surround your child with a cosy blanket of love and comfort, making a safe place in the storm that is raging around us. Find ways to draw your family together and maintain close connections. Make time to do some meaningful and fun activities together. Give each child an opportunity for a little one-on-one time with mom or dad.
Being separated from friends and family can bring out intense feelings of sadness and frustration. Encourage your kids to brainstorm ways they can stay connected with the people they care about. FaceTime, Zoom meetings and phone calls are likely to be at the top of the list but there are many other ways to maintain closeness. It will be well worth the effort, both for them and for you.
Children often act out as a response to emotions such as anxiety, fear or sadness. You might feel like your 10-year-old is acting more like a seven-year-old some days, and you’re struggling to understand the changes you see. Perhaps your teen has withdrawn and spends even more time alone in her room. Even older children can struggle to verbalize what they are feeling.
Psychologists tell us it is normal for children to regress emotionally during times of stress and trauma. The trigger for the behavioural outburst may not be what it appears. It could be that your son or daughter is worried they’ll never see their cousins again or that someone they love might die of COVID-19.
When you deal with a challenging behaviour, view it as a teaching opportunity to help your child understand and manage their emotions. If we are willing to forgive others and, as well, admit our own mistakes and ask our child’s forgiveness, we model an important lesson in grace. Sometimes conflicts occur out of boredom or restlessness and the energy can be redirected to something that requires physical activity or a task like baking cookies for a neighbour.
Routines and schedules promote feelings of security and familiarity. Try to maintain basic routines such as bedtime, meals and chores. Of course there have been changes to some activities and you want to allow for flexibility as well. Develop a basic daily schedule together and make a chart showing what each day will look like. Place the chart where it is visible for all to see.
- Have fun and be silly together. Laughing helps reduce stress and releases feel good endorphins.
- Make it a priority to schedule family together to play a board game, read a book aloud or do a puzzle.
- Have extra cuddle time.
- In times of stress we all have different ways of seeking comfort. It may be something that brought comfort as a younger child, like being securely wrapped in a blanket, carrying around a favourite stuffy or perhaps spending time playing the piano. Help your child make a list of things they can do when they feel overwhelmed.
- Hugging and stroking a pet be a great source of comfort. They are good listeners too. I have often observed the comfort my therapy dog, Flower, brings to those struggling with sadness or anxiety.
- Sit in a circle and taking turns, have everyone tell their favourite joke, the sillier the better. Laugh out loud together as each joke is shared, whether you think it’s funny or not!
- Write notes that will bring cheer and maybe a chuckle, and place them around the house to be found.
Nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even COVID-19. We hope things will get better, yes, but more than that, we are able to put our hope in the God who created us and who assures us that there is nothing that can ever separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).
In your family devotionals, prayers and conversations, focus on building faith, a sense of hope and trust in the wrap around love of our heavenly Father who says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). 1 Corinthians 13, known as the love chapter, tells us that love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
It is much healthier to teach our children to focus on things we can do, than to dwell on things we can’t control. God is love and we are to love others, as God loves us. This is the perfect time to show love to your neighbour, the needy, friends and family.
Brainstorm ways to show God’s love to others. Choose an item from the list below or from your own list. Put love into action:
- Make cheerful cards or draw pictures to leave on your neighbour’s porch.
- Bake cookies or muffins to give away. Attach a note.
- Deliver a meal and a homemade card to a senior or someone who is alone.
- Fill a box with food items for the food bank.
- Write a chalk message of God’s love on the sidewalk. Include a colourful drawing.
- Write an encouraging letter or email.
Beverly Moffat writes from her experience as a special education educator, classroom teacher, adoptive parent and volunteer support to families in adoption ministry. Beverly lives in Surrey, B.C.
This article first appeared at http://focusonthefamily.ca