With the world in the grips of a pandemic, there will be few households who have escaped the impact. From the closure of schools, the cancellation of travel plans, the relentless barrage of media images and concerns for friends and family abroad, coronavirus is consuming us.
The only thing that seems to be more infectious than the virus is the anxiety surrounding it.
When we are stressed and anxious, our children pick that up. Even young babies can react to a parent’s feeling of stress, making them harder to settle….which adds to the existing stress. It’s a vicious cycle.
Whilst we can’t shield our children from the realities of the crisis, we can consider how we talk to them about it and filter the information that they are receiving.
A huge thank you to Julia Hintermeister, a Child Psychotherapist who shared her professional opinion and put these guidelines together.
Infants and Toddlers
- Care for yourself. If you feel stressed and overwhelmed, your child will pick up on this. Take some time out when you can, practice relaxation techniques and limit your own contact with media if it makes you feel anxious.
- Stick to your routines as far as possible. Infants and toddlers are comforted by routines and it makes the day easier.
- See this as an adventure! There’s no nursery school so you can invent new ways of playing at home.
- Focus on what you ARE doing and not what you AREN’T. For example: “Today we are going to play, do some baking, have lunch and watch a movie”, we don’t need to tell them the things they may be missing out on.
- Social isolation doesn’t have to feel like a punishment, it’s a way to protect the community and it never needs to be boring.
- The above guidelines apply, but the closure of schools is something unprecedented for most families and can cause additional stress in the family.
- Without school, routines can quickly change and this alone can make children feel anxious. Routine is important. Children need to feel safe and secure and a predictable routine helps this.
- Limit news and conversation that may cause anxiety. Turn the T.V off; images of people in hazmat suits and sick in a hospital is frightening. Little children have very big ears when it comes to listening in to our chats but they don’t always have the capacity to understand and process the information they are hearing.
- Information is on a need to know basis. We don’t need to sit young children down and explain what is going on as that makes it feel scary and big, but we do need to be able to respond to their questions in an age-appropriate way.
- Avoid abstract explanations about viruses floating around etc. This is hard enough for adults to fully comprehend so we don’t want our children thinking they are under attack from an invisible enemy.
- Keep yourself informed. Know what is happening in Botswana as well as the rest of the world. This makes it easier to answer questions properly and reduce uncertain answers.
- Children need space to feel their feelings. Check-in with them, talk, allow them to feel angry, sad, disappointed or whatever feelings they are managing.
- The above advice applies to older children. They still only need information on a need to know basis as we don’t want to overwhelm them with ‘what if’s’.
- Older children need space to explore their feelings. Suggest keeping a diary or record of their experiences of being at home as a way to encourage this.
- Let them grieve their losses. It may seem small to us, but missing a school party or not being able to see friends can feel devastating.
- Continue to monitor their use of social media and screen time. They may want to be on it more than usual and some schools will be employing technology to continue teaching, but all children still need to be protected from unsuitable content and negative online experiences. Check-in regularly and make sure you know what they are viewing.
- Older children may benefit from feeling useful in some way. Maybe they could collect items for donations for emergency packs that are being prepared in case coronavirus hits Botswana and families are left struggling. Or they could set up safe ways to communicate with relatives and friends who are isolating.
- Embrace the extra time you have and make the most of strengthening connections as a family. It’s time to dust off those board games!
If you want to know more about staying safe as a family, have a read of Coronavirus and Botswana: What You Need To Know
Caroline holds a Master’s degree in Mental Health and Psychological Therapy and works to help others achieve their full potential. As one of the Directors of SensoBaby, she focuses her attention on families and young children.
You can find her at www.littlenaledi.com