All year, parents have been worried about the longterm effects this pandemic will have on our kids, and rightfully so: Their mental health, their physical health, and their academic and social skills have probably all taken a hit as schools closed and activities they love were cancelled and their friendships had to take place from a distance.
When things get tough for kids, we cling to the idea that they are naturally resilient. “Kids bounce back,” we tell ourselves and each other, partly because that’s often true, but maybe also because we need it to be true. But resilience is like a muscle that is strengthened over time. It needs relief from the weight of hardship before it can emerge, and hardship abounds right now.
Of course, the problem with the pandemic is the sheer length and breadth of that hardship. Overcoming life shutting down for a couple of weeks would have been one thing; overcoming everything shutting down for upwards of a year is quite another. But there are things we can do to help our kids through this.
Laura Santhanam recently reported on this topic for PBS NewsHour, and Jessica Bartlett, who directs early childhood research for Child Trends, told her that parents should rely on “the three R’s” — reassurance, routine, and regulation.
- Reassure them about their safety. Younger children want to know grown-ups are working really hard to protect everyone. Older kids have probably heard stories or rumours about the virus and may be ready for more age-appropriate conversations about what’s happening and what’s being done to help their household and community get through this pandemic.
- Stick to a routine. There’s a time to sleep, a time to wake, a time to learn and a time to play. Preserve those schedules as much as possible. And when things do change and there’s any notice, let the child know so they can mentally prepare. Even a small heads-up can help a child navigate uncertain times.
- Regulate. Different coping mechanisms work for different kids — exercise, deep breathing, movement, quiet time. Whichever strategy works can improve a child’s capacity to deal with big feelings, their ability to learn and relate to other people.
It might seem basic, but the basics have a way of getting lost in the midst of all the stress they — and we — are feeling. It’s worth a reminder that the best way to help them continue to build their resilience throughout this pandemic — and come out the other side with minimal damage — is to support them. Provide the reassurance they need (even if they’re not asking for it), protect their routine whenever possible (but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t), and help them develop their emotional regulation techniques (and practice them together).
It doesn’t hurt to model doing this for yourself, too. Kids often learn how to deal with tough situations by watching the way you handle them.
I’ve written about how to have a variety of “big talks“ with our kids as they grow up ” enough of them that we’ve grouped them into their own section so you can peruse them easily. Right now we, as parents, can’t afford to avoid talking with them about any...Read more