The COVID-19 reality is an unprecedented situation for all.
It may feel like a brick on the chest for most parents who, at the expense of keeping their job and their productivity rates at an acceptable level, have to juggle between working from home, maintaining said home to a habitable state and being their children’s educator/s at the same time.
And it may fuel the fear of the unknown, as well as other strong emotions in children, who are encountering overwhelming news wherever they turn to.
According to Prof. Carmel Cefai, Director of the Centre for Resilience and Socio-Emotional Health and a Professor at the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, the stress and anxiety brought about by COVID-19 can be something children will be able to cope with, if their parents guide them accordingly by taking heed of the following advice:
1. Provide honest, accurate and age appropriate information
Avoiding discussing the COVID-19 reality may actually increase children’s anxiety as they try to fill the gaps on what is happening around them, sometimes from unreliable sources. Parents need to provide honest, clear and factual information (whilst keeping away from fear-arousal information), as well as age – appropriate information. With young children, parents may provide brief and simple information and reassurances that they are there to protect them and take care of them also if they get sick. With older children, parents may engage in discussions and provide guidance on reliable sources of information and how to distinguish between scientific facts and fake news and speculations, especially those coming from the social media.
2. Listen actively and give time for children to express their thoughts, fears and emotions
This will help children to feel reassured and more in control. Provide them with extra attention, with more frequent expressions of affection and reassurance. To reduce anxiety, limit exposure to TV news/social media/ discussions about the virus and use distractions like household chores, family games, play, and chatting with friends.
3. Be their role model of calmness and reassurance
Children react to stressful situations according to their parents’ behaviours and emotions. High levels of parental anxiety may thus lead to an increase in children’s anxiety. Parents need to be aware of how their own behaviour may be affecting the children. Reminding children of the safety practices the family is taking to prevent infection, and actually engaging in such practices as a family, is reassuring for them.
4. Provide a daily structure
Daily routines such as time for learning, time for physical activity and play, time for friends (social media), time for household chores, time for regular family meals, time for TV/social media, and time for other family activities, are also beneficial. Such structure provides children with the stability and security they need in times of change and stress. Physical activity, challenging tasks, play and connections with friends and relatives are crucial for children’s healthy development.
5. Provide daily learning opportunities