Supporting little ones through a pandemic
Wowzers! Who knew when we became parents that raising our little one/s amidst a pandemic would be part of the gig?!? Whether you're a new or pregnant mama trying to navigate this isolating time or a seasoned mum of a tribe of kids that you're trying to home school, it's tough!
We are... exhausted! We're often left feeling lonely, and beneath it all, we're worried about the long-term effects of the pandemic on our kiddies.
Before I go on, I want you to pause for a minute and validate your experience. What you've been going through as a parent the last 18+ months is different to what any generation of mamas and papas have ever dealt with before - and aside from our littlest loves born recently (yes! Covid-19 baby boom!), the life our kids are experiencing this year is so different from life as they knew it before.
The Royal Children's Hospital director of mental health recently spoke out publicly about the saddening fact hospitals are now seeing significantly more mental health difficulties in children during lockdowns.
"What parents really need is to know is how to support their children through this time, and also how to recognise that their child or adolescent may be struggling," he said. "It is really important for parents to check-in themselves on how they are coping, how they are managing, so they can support their family."
I know for many families, the uncertainty, change to normal life and fears around becoming unwell has been very unsettling. Children look to adults as guides on how to react in stressful situations, and understandably, many parents are unsure how to tackle this one. So today, I wanted to give you a little help with how you can help your kids cope.
Talk about the pandemic with your kiddies!
Kids are amazing at how they can sense when things aren't right. They're also pretty pro at picking up on a parent's anxieties too. Avoiding complex topics or sweeping them under the rug helps no one and often makes children feel more worried than they need to be. For this reason, it's super important to be open and honest with kids. An excellent place to start is asking your little loves what they do know and understand. Open-ended questions are suitable for this and can help alleviate their fears and allow you to correct any false information they may have been told. Part of being honest with our kids, though, is also not being afraid to tell them you don't have all the answers.
Keep it age-appropriate.
When we're communicating with little ones, it's essential to think about their age. Young kiddies need simple and clear info, whilst older kids are generally keen to be provided with more detail. We don't want to alarm kids when we talk about people becoming unwell. So focus on empowering them with how we can help keep others healthy. Explain why we are handwashing and social distancing, or why school or kinder is closed during lockdown. Sticking to the facts helps too.
I know sometimes it's hard to feel it yourself, particularly when we have been riding the Coronacoaster for this long! Try your best to stay positive and hopeful when discussing the pandemic with your little ones. It can help to explain that there are lots of doctors and scientists working very hard and learning so much every day. It can help to share that although many people have become sick many many more people have recovered. Sometimes it can help to focus on the future and explain to kids that although life is different at the moment, eventually, things will go back to normal. If children express concern for their grandparents or elderly loved ones, validate their worries and then remind them we are practising handwashing, mask-wearing and social distancing to protect them. It can also be helpful to let your little ones know we have amazing nurses and doctors in Australia, as well as great big hospitals that work so hard to get everyone better.
Help them stay connected.
Just like us, our little loves need their mates. It can be really confusing for them to have to spend so much time apart. Encouraging kids to connect with their friends in other ways can be really helpful. Think about using Facetime and video chats, writing a letter or playing games together online. These are strange times, mama. Rest assured, a bit of extra screen time won't hurt!
Sometimes honing it back into our safe little bubble and focusing on the little things is vital. With the arrival of Spring, I am reminded to notice the beauty around me, feel the warmth of summer on its way, pick flowers in my backyard or create stories about the shapes we see within clouds in the sky. Focusing on our senses can calm the nervous system no matter your age. Lie down with your kiddies on a blanket on the grass and see what you can hear, what you can smell, what you can see right there in your lil bubble. Breathe in that fresh air and be surprised how grounded this can help you feel. Practising your own calming strategies will, in turn, help your kiddies.
Limit the media!
There is SO much info out there! It may not seem much to have the TV going all day in the background, but children absorb so much more than we think! The constant doom and gloom of the news on our TVs and radios can very much affect children and become overwhelming. Limit what your child sees and hears through the media and online as it can become a little, or a lot, too much for little ears and eyes at this time.
Routine is Key.
During uncertain times our little loves need routine more than ever. The unpredictable nature of the pandemic and its effect on family life means maintaining as much normality as possible can be really helpful. I know this can be super tough when home-schooling has been thrown into the mix, so at least keep mealtimes and bedtimes as regular as possible. A bit of physical activity built into every single day is good for young and old.
Look out for anxiety and stress signs in your kids
Check-in with the fam! This is a big one as everyone handles stressful situations differently, and some kiddies will be more affected than others. Keep talking about things other than Covid-19 so that it's not the entire focus, but observe how your kids are around these convos. Little tikes may be more irritable, and changes in behaviour are very normal responses when children are stressed. This may also include having more tantrums or regressing in their sleep, or eating. The main thing to look for is behaviour that is different or unusual to their norm. Older kiddies may have difficulty staying focused, which can manifest in having trouble with their school work or being distracted and forgetful.
Remember, you can't give from an empty cup
Mama, it's imperative that you take care of yourself in or to be able to take care of your little people. Accept help where you can and remember your mental health is equally important. Try to stay connected with your own supports and networks, get your co-pilot to watch the kids while you get out for a walk with the dog, take a long hot bath or even just catch a few quiet moments with a cup of tea. Make sure you are getting plenty of rest; self-care is a must!
If you are finding things particularly stressful, lean on your family and friends, speak to your GP or reach out to any of the helplines I'll share below.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- Yarning SafeNStrong on 1800 95 95 63
- Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- ReachOut at au.reachout.com
You are doing a fantastic job in super exceptional circumstances,
Hang in there, guys. This won't be forever!