As time has passed since the crisis broke out and perhaps ideas and resources have started wearing out, I have been contacted by several of you and asked for advice. I have written down some of the most important things to keep track of when talking to your child about the virus and also some tips regarding home learning.
While the information is relevant for all parents, should you have limited time on your hands, I have divided the following text into explanations and recommendations for parents of primary school children and for parents of secondary school children.
How do we talk to children about the current situation?
1. It is recommended that children are told the truth about this situation, about the existence of a virus which is best to keep safe from.
When talking to children about it, avoid information which is irrelevant and hard to understand; statistics and especially information of an unsure nature such as “We don’t know how much longer this will last; We don’t know how it can be treated”. If the child asks a question to which the answer would be ”I/we/they don’t know”, I recommend that you change the perspective without changing the truth: “They are about to let us know how much longer this will last; Scientists are working on a vaccine right now.”, You will be delivering the same information, but without the anxiety that often comes spontaneously when things are uncertain.
2. If the child is already scared of this subject, I recommend changing the name of the virus to a friendlier one, such as Little Cov, Covey, Covizel, Covidut, etc.
It is important that this new name is close to the real name so that there are no differences between what the child hears from you and what they hear on TV. If they are particularly scared by it, have an art session with them – draw the virus, put a face on it, a hat, rollerskates, anything to change the child’s image of it.
3. It is recommended that the discussions about this subject are held in a calm manner and that the parent is sure of himself/herself and of what he/she is saying.
I suggest that this discussion is initiated by the parent who feels more comfortable with this subject because children will unconsciously notice any change in tone, volume of voice, posture or facial expression and they will know whether you are stressed about it or not. As you, the parent, are the absolute authority and all-knowing being in the child’s eyes, you being stressed may scare the child in return. When this discussion takes place, the parent needs to create a secure environment for the child through his/her attitude and behaviour – this occurs naturally and spontaneously when the parent is confident in himself and not afraid of the subject at hand!
4. Avoid using answers that are positive and very general, such as “It will be okay; everything will work out in the end” because these phrases do not offer any real emotional or cognitive comfort.
If a child asks something that is difficult for you to answer, be honest and say something along the lines of “I do not have an answer right now for you, but I will check things out and come back to you” or “Let’s find out together!”. If, however, you are emotionally overwhelmed by what the child is saying or asking, I invite you to write an email to me at [email protected] and we can thoroughly discuss about what you, as an adult and a parent, are going through right now.
5. Do not minimize the child’s efforts to better understand what is going on around him.
The more questions they ask, the more opportunities you have to teach them more, offer them different perspectives and cultivate their curiosity.
6. Offer security to your child by talking to him/her about different ways to keep safe from the virus.
In order to show him/her how important hand-washing and disinfecting is, I have attached a short experiment which you can try with your child in order to prove to them exactly how soap works.
How do we provide a comfortable space?
Try to offer as much predictability and stability for the coming days. This avalanche of free time and the fact that the days can hardly be differentiated can be hard to cope with, even for an adult.
- Divide the coming weeks by colours, every colour representing a certain activity which will be happening every day for that week. For example, next week could be orange week, meaning that we will wear one orange piece of clothing every day, we will draw a plant and we will eat something that starts with the letter O. Plan together with your child (their ideas are endless) and let them decorate the calendar, then put it up somewhere where they have access to it whenever they need to. This activity offers the child the comfort of understanding time and how it passes, even though the days are quite similar.
- Put together a weekly and daily plan for your child, even if you do not respect the hours 100%. Start with the time interval in which the child will wake up, meals, daily activities and bedtime. Allow your child to have free time! It is important that they have a minimum control in daily activities and how they spend their time. If possible, take part in the child’s activities, however, only if you feel that you can do so without feeling obligated. Invite the child to participate in all household activities: to set the table, bring ingredients from the fridge when cooking, pick out white laundry to wash, etc.
It is important that you offer your child the right context for them. Until now, the home didn’t represent a place in which your child needed to do much homework and it will take some time and support from you for them to associate their home with a place in which work needs to be done.
You can support them by trying to take away all distractions while they are working: shut off the TV, sit the child at a desk or table that is away from their play-zone, offer them all the materials that they will need for their tasks so that you prevent them from “taking trips” to gather materials.
While they work, try to engage in activities that would not seem fun to a child: work on the computer, write in a notebook, read a book. If it is necessary, do this in the proximity of your child, however if the context allows, I recommend that you sit in a different room, as your mere presence would most likely be a distraction to the child.
Please do not forget that this situation is entirely new to them, as it is to us. The difference between them and us is that we have the ability to understand what is going on and take control. For them, it often means being stressed, confused, frustrated, angry or sad. Offer them space, try to understand them, adapt to their needs and always ask yourselves “What does he/she want to tell me through this behaviour?”
As the first few weeks of school were focused on trying to adapt to the new situation, our dear students may just now start to notice how they truly feel about this change.
Just like us adults, some students may take longer than others to get used to this new lifestyle and some will figure it out right away. Having to redefine our everyday lives and having a brand new “normality” will most likely bring some changes in behaviour.
You, as parents, may be seeing:
- Excessive screen time
- Swearing, defiance and disrespect
- Sneaking out or leaving the house
What they, as young teenagers, will most likely be experiencing:
- Boredom and confusion
- Helplessness and powerlessness
- Fear and worry
- Worry about social status and disconnection
- Lack of skills
- Emotionally dis-regulated
Changes in behaviour usually mean that there is a restructuring process going. This way, we know that our organism requires better adaptation to the environment and this is what, in its simple way, it’s trying to do.
For example, should your child begin to isolate themselves, it could be a sign that they are trying to cope with this new situation and they need space and quiet in order for their body to preserve energy. It’s a completely natural process.
Changes are worrying and sometimes parents feel that they are responsible for everything going on in their child’s life. This can put an enormous amount of pressure on them!
Here’s a tip: try to steer away from a “me” point of view – “Why are they not talking to me; Why are they isolating themselves from me; Are they mad at me?” Take away the “me” from the previous examples and you will find that you’re asking yourselves the real questions, which will in turn, set a different tone for the conversation and it will most likely be solution-focused.
If you have any further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected].