We hope your family is coping well with staying at home and that you are finding creative ways to enjoy your extended time together. If this crisis has a silver lining, it may be that staying at home has given us an opportunity to explore new hobbies, like gardening and cooking, and so many families have adopted pets that shelters are nearly empty. But despite these bright spots, this is a bewildering and uncertain time for everyone, and your children have undoubtedly been unsettled by much daily life has changed.
To help you talk with and comfort your children at this time, we share below some guidance from Dr. Robert Brooks, a Harvard psychiatrist and a friend of TCS, on how to nurture resilience in your children during difficult times. We also offer you additional resources here, with expert advice on talking to your child about the pandemic.
Some advice from Dr. Brooks on taking care of yourself and your children:
- Remain calm and reassuring. A key source of strength for children is the presence in their lives of what psychologists call a “charismatic adult,” or an adult from whom a child gathers strength. Children need charismatic adults in their lives, people who are supportive and encouraging even when a crisis strikes. We know that if children experience us as very anxious, it intensifies their own worries. But honest reassurance from a parent can calm their fears.
- Model ways to be resilient under pressure. Another component of resilience is to focus your time and energy on situations over which you have some influence rather than attempting to change things over which you have little, if any, control. We can model resilience for children by explaining to them all the concrete actions we are taking to deal with the virus, such as keeping our distance, washing our hands carefully and letting you know when they feel unwell. Having concrete steps to take, and understanding why they are important, can help children with anxiety.
- Keep children completely away from background TV or news on the radio. The worry for children will escalate if they repeatedly hear and view adults panicking.
- Make yourself available. With so many changes to their usual routines, children may need extra attention from you and may want to talk about their concerns, fears and questions. It is important that children know they have someone who will listen to them and make time for them. At home, make certain you are available and able to provide undivided attention to their concerns and their questions. Let your children talk about their feelings. Tell them you love them and give them plenty of affection. Engage your child in games or other interesting activities to help them focus on other things.
- Set up a daily routine, which gives children a sense of safety and order. All family members can be soothed by a predictable structure. It is also important to adhere as much as possible to a regular routine while children are away from school by setting aside a time each day for schoolwork, for physical activities, for games and relaxation, and even for FaceTime playdates. A set routine brings some order to all of the uncertainty that exists. Maybe set aside a little time every afternoon to organize and clean up together to keep chaos and germs at bay.
- Look for creative ways to keep up your child’s social relationships. Encourage staying connected to friends and social contacts through new means. This is a welcome opportunity for children to be in touch with friends and family, including grandparents, through tools like FaceTime. Staying connected helps everyone feel safer and more protected.
- Find restorative and meaningful activities to share as a family. The novel experience of being together at home can also be an opportunity for awakened interests, revealed talents, stronger family connections, deep rest and even joy. Seek out activities each day that will help everyone in the family manage anxiety. If you can, go outside in the backyard and look for signs of spring. Time outside in nature helps children restore their sense of wonder, curiosity and sense of place and belonging. Have a family dance party or a drum circle or a sing-along or a yoga session. Older children may want to express their experiences through drawings and writing stories or creating their own historical time line of events; it could be a helpful shift of perspective to remember that they are living through a momentous event in history.
- Lastly, take good care of yourself. Give yourself time to manage your own feelings. This moment requires us to dig deep and take deliberate action to make sure we stay mentally healthy for our kids. Even small acts of care for ourselves are important, like watching a TV show that makes you laugh or talking honestly and privately about how you feel with a friend. Though we may be practicing social distancing, remember to stay in touch with other parents to share ideas, seek support and stay connected!
The ongoing support, encouragement and love we display towards each other can serve as a vital component of our battle against an epidemic. It is so important at this time to be a charismatic adult, a source of strength for others—and to ensure that we take care of ourselves as well.
Wishing you comfort, calm and safety in the shelter of your homes.