Schools are closed and workplaces but that is not all — birthday parties, sports games, the school play, extracurricular activities, playdates, trips to visit family are all on hold for now. The major life alterations that have had to happen because of Covid-19 are disappointing both for parents and their children. How do you explain things to your children? How do you help your child through this mound of disappointment?
It is a difficult situation, to say the least. We have all dealt with the occasional snow day or telling our children they can’t attend a birthday party because of illness or other factors but this is different—it is weeks of what feels like never-ending disappointment.
Anxiety is Contagious
The first thing to remember when trying to help your child is your anxiety can rub off on your children. If you are stressing over these conversations they will pick up on it. The same is said for feelings of calm. If you have a calm demeanor your children will feel that as well and likely will be able to process things easier. Check-in with yourself before talking to your children. Collect your thoughts and do some breathing if you are feeling anxious. Try to approach the situation as calmly as possible.
Next, focus on validating your child’s emotions. They are going to be sad, angry, confused, and disappointed. Name their feelings— “you are sad, and that is ok.” Acknowledge these feelings are normal and completely acceptable. Then explain that they are not alone. Their friends will also not be attending that birthday party or sports game, no one will be going. We all have to stay home. There is an inner peace that comes from knowing you are not alone. They won’t be missing out on stuff that their friends are doing because nobody will be doing anything. Use this to your advantage.
Avoid using the justification of “we have to keep the older people safe,” or “this is the right thing to do.” Developmentally this isn’t going to help your child to see things for what they are—they are at the point where their worldview revolves around them, their friends, and their family.
A Learning Opportunity
These times are difficult but they can also be a great time to teach your child important life skills, such as how to manage stress and disappointment.
Talk through it and be a listening ear for your child, that’s the most important thing you can do for them. Do not make promises that things will be rescheduled because none of that is for certain. Focus on fun things you can do instead — making breakfast for dinner, a family game, painting a picture, movie night, building an epic pillow fort, something attainable yet exciting.
Use What Resources You Have
Yes, things are not operating the way they usually do but that doesn’t mean they have to be completely unraveled. Help your child have virtual playdates with friends, try using Facetime or Google Hangout. If your child is bummed to miss a family vacation make some fruity drinks, take a warm bath, and play some Caribbean music. If your child is sad the school play is canceled, have them make a video of a play with their stuffed animals and share it with family or friends. Things aren’t going to be the same but they can still be fun.
These unprecedented times are putting a lot of pressure on all of us in different ways—whether trying to manage working at home, homeschooling, or the frustration of feeling trapped inside. But, they can be a great learning opportunity for our children. We can help them foster resilience so in the future they will have the tools they need to get through tough situations.
Help your child to look on the bright side and use this time to find the positives. We may be stuck at home but that means more time to be together, more time to try something new or work on a project. Let your imagination run wild.
If you are suffering from anxiety during this time, it may be helpful to speak to a licensed mental health professional. At Move Forward Counseling, we are offering telehealth appointments. Call our office at 717-462-7003 ext. 1 to learn more. And, take care of you.
Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC
Alison is the Founder and CEO of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice for women with three locations in Lancaster County, PA. She is passionate about reducing the stigma related to accessing mental health services. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.