During this period of social distancing, parents know how difficult it can be to keep kids preoccupied and calm. With schools and businesses being closed, it can be challenging to create a fun, worry-free environment for both parents and children as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. Cynthia Reynolds, executive director at Bingham Farms-based First Family Counseling, and Odis Bellinger, founder and director of the Detroit-based mentorship program Building Better Men, share their advice for getting through the stress.
Teach children traditional skills
Having more down-time at home gives a great opportunity to teach your children important life skills. Cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, gardening, and learning how to sew are some of the things Reynolds suggests. “This is a perfect opportunity for us to do things like that with our children, and also prepare them when they need these skills later. These skills are going to be new and exciting for them and also builds a sense of self-esteem and accomplishment that comes when you’re able to do things for yourself.”
“Children pick up a lot of the vibes parents give. They have normal reactions and responses to what they see. They are naturally empathetic and concerned,” Reynolds says. In order to stay calm, she says, “people must prepare for change and transition if the children become anxious, depressed, or fearful. We have to be careful about what messages we send to them.” Learning skills such as mindfulness and journaling with your children through online resources and apps, such as Calm can be very beneficial. Bellinger suggests using the website Calm Classroom a few times a day. “Calm classroom is a collection of activities that show you two- to three-minute activities to help children focus and connect with themselves, to calm the body and nerves,” he says.
Make time for self-care
Reynolds says that parents have to prioritize taking care of themselves as well as their children. “We have to go back to prioritizing ourselves and our physical, mental, and spiritual health because people are going to be leaning on you.” According to her, adults need to keep in mind that self-care will help maintain stress.
Encourage children to express their feelings
“Encourage children that their feelings are okay, that they will get through their feelings, and that having emotions like being afraid, anxious, and upset are all normal,” Reynolds says. Parents will sometimes try to pretend that feelings like stress and anxiety aren’t normal, but this creates even more stress and difficulties for children, she says. “Teach children they are responsible for their own feelings. That empowers them to feel that they have some control over the situation. Bellinger agrees. He suggests establishing check-ins with children by asking them how they’re doing, how they are feeling, and also making sure they are eating properly. He suggests asking kids to list three positives in their lives to see the focus on the good, instead of the bad.
Keep up on their education
Bellinger has children in his program read two books a week and write a 150-word essay to increase their literacy skills. The children also keep reading journals and he connects with them to discuss each chapter of their books. Along with working through books, Odis suggests that parents look online for educational resources to help their kids.
Keep children informed
Bellinger suggests that parents keep children informed about what is going on, making sure they know about things such as washing their hands and social distancing. “When you do not get the proper information that means you are put into a situation where you are likely to become a victim under a certain circumstance,” he says. “There’s a reason why precautions are taken.”