Tips for Creating Normalcy for Your Kids as COVID-19 Persists
By Leslie Alexander, CCLS, Child-Life Specialist—Virtua Health Pediatric Pavilion
During this time of uncertainty and stress, children and teens may be facing more anxiety than ever before, and may need some help learning how to calm down. Changes in school routines—being hybrid, remote, or just plain different—not being around friends, and being unable to enjoy some activities can alter your child’s sense of security and normalcy.
You can help prevent your child from experiencing anxiety by maintaining a consistent routine, ensuring they're getting enough sleep and physical activity, and providing clear and precise boundaries.
Keep lines of communication open
The media has been helpful in sharing vital news to keep us all informed and safe. However, some of it is also dark and grim, so consider monitoring how much and where you watch the news.
Set a limit to check in with the local and/or national news once or twice a day and for a specific amount of time. Given the gravity of the information being shared, maybe watch on your own or with a spouse or partner and decide what information you want to share with your kids.
Don’t be afraid to discuss it. Ask your children what they have heard and correct any misconceptions. It’s important to be transparent about what’s happening, but watch for cues from your kids to gauge how they’re handling it. It’s okay if you don’t have all of the answers to their questions.
Tap into age-appropriate resources to explain COVID-19 and the importance of listening to the experts to keep ourselves safe. Here are a few stories and/or comics that can help:
Tips for coping with stress
As many people with children/teens know, stress and anxiety doesn’t always happen at home, below are some techniques that you can teach your children to use anywhere.
- Imagine your favorite place—it’s like taking a mini vacation no matter where you are.
- Squeeze something—try a stress ball, playdough, putty, or slime.
- Do deep breathing exercises.
- Try the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding exercise.
- Give yourself or your caregiver a hug and squeeze tight.
- Sing a favorite song.
Below are techniques that parents and caregivers can use in a more controlled environment, like the home:
- Make a calm-down corner/spot. Make sure to find a cozy spot where your child can help to create a space that will be calming for them. Your child can help by adding a blanket, stuffed animal, or calming tools like bubbles, a stress ball, or rain stick.
- Listen to calming meditation.
- Use phrases:
- “I’m here for you.”
- “You are feeling ______, I feel _______ too. You are safe and I am here for you."
- “This feeling will go away, let’s get comfortable until it does.”
- “Let’s count _____.”
Make time every day for play
Playing is one of the best ways for kids to cope with stress—now and always. Play helps kids regulate their emotions and gives them something else to focus on other than this unprecedented moment in our lives.
You don’t have to have perfect, Pinterest-worthy activities planned. A combination of independent play and social play is important. They’re going to need some undivided attention from their parents or caregivers in order to provide security. Try to keep it around the same time each day so they have it to look forward to and count on. Even if your activities don’t go as planned, time with them goes further than you think for their emotional well-being.
Ideas for social play include:
- Board games and puzzles
- Dance parties to fun music
- YouTube karaoke
- Imaginative play like playing restaurant or school, or playing with dolls
- Building creations with Legos or playdough
- Outdoor play like playing freeze tag, kicking a ball, or having races
Create structure with flexible routines
Routines and play are paramount in order to provide a sense of control—for kids and parents. While there are still a lot of unknowns in the near future, we know that structure provides a sense of normalcy during times that are anything but normal.
You don’t have to schedule the whole day. Providing structured times for wake up, meals, and bedtime is extremely beneficial during this time. Make sure there’s a chunk of time for free play to give your children opportunities for control. Not every minute has to be planned out perfectly but consistency is key.
Unexpected things will happen. Be kind to yourself when things don’t go as planned. If you need ideas or help creating a routine, tap into experts who are providing helpful resources for parents and children.
This story from the Today Show provides a wide variety of resources for parents including printable schedules, fun educational resources, and links to children’s authors who are reading their own books aloud or providing instructions on drawing or doodling.
While it’s impossible to see what the future holds, we definitely know that some of life’s greatest trials lead to our greatest lessons. This challenge can strengthen your family bonds and empower your kids with better tools for managing change, disappointment, and stress.
Updated October 7, 2020