COVID-19: Helping Children Cope (and Thrive) During the Circuit Breaker

Article by Puja Chandra Nanda

We are Safe (not stuck) at Home:

In this unprecedented global crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the message that we need to convey to our children is that we are safe at home and not that we are stuck at home. The two diametrically opposite phrases make the world of a difference to a young mind’s perception of this challenging, constantly evolving situation.

While being stuck at home signals that this is the worst possible scenario and gives way to boredom, depression and anxiety; being safe at home signals that right now it is the best thing to do in order to protect ourselves, our family and our community.

We Are In This Together:

It is important for children not to feel alone but be reassured in the knowledge that they are facing this crisis as a unit – safe and protected as a family. Assure the children that whatever the situation, you are here for them. Tell them how you would try to ensure that their primary needs are met.

Also, tell them gently of the scenario in case any family member happens to fall sick, so they are not caught unguarded. Older children can be explained how they can manage if a parent is quarantined or worse if they themselves need to be hospitalized. It may be tougher for younger children to understand or relate to such a situation but they can be assured that whatever be the case, you will be connected to them throughout. For example, physical hugs might need to replaced by air hugs for a while but it will be fine in the end.

Tell them its ok to be scared but that they must not get carried away by that fear. Practice gratitude and count your blessings together as a family.

Be Honest about Facts:

Often we are tempted to mollycoddle facts to save the children from getting affected. However, with the barrage of information from social media sites and friends, children would be exposed to the facts way sooner than you can fathom. Also, there is a risk of them getting more info than they can digest – leading to anxiety, irrational fear and doubts. To prevent this from happening, it is good for you- the parent to share the factual news with the children, so they don’t fall prey to fake news.

Explain to children why its important to stay indoors, why it is important to practice good hygiene and keep their surroundings clean. Reinforce rules such as safe distancing and wearing of masks.

But Skip the Gory Details:

At the same time, save the children the minute details, especially those that spell doom. For example they can know the macro numbers such as names of countries affected and where Singapore stands in its battle against COVID-19 so they can grasp the seriousness of the situation. But it is not important for them to know how many people are dying and how. Since children have a very impressionable mind and are sensitive to such information, adults must avoid discussing gloomy details as well as watching content with graphic images or footage. Disturbing visual content can affect young minds adversely and disrupt their sleep.

Set a Practical Time Table:

As children are staying at home, unable to attend school or enrichment classes and unable to go outdoors to play with their friends; there is a lot of unstructured time at hand. For lower primary children, HBL takes about 2-3 hours leaving a lot of time free. If they are left completely unguided during this period, it can lead to confusion and lethargy.

To tackle this, parents can sit with the children and work out a daily schedule/ time table. A structure would be comforting for the young children and it will help define study, activity and free time. Whereas some screen time might be unavoidable it may be a good idea to weave in time for physical exercise, music practice, art & craft, solving puzzles, reading books and other such activities. This is easier said than done as it requires planning and execution from parents end. One way of doing this is to plan ahead for the week over the weekend. Or simply take one day at a time, planning the previous night for the next working day.

Remember to allow some flexibility and unstructured time for play. Giving the children the freedom to choose from a list of suggested activities makes them feel in control of their lives and ensures adherence. Involve children in household chores too – it will help your workload, keep children occupied and also teach them some useful life skills along the way!

Make Good Use of Screen Time:

Family of four playing with digital tablet at home

There is one unavoidable by-product of staying at home and home based learning and that is increase in screen time. This is inevitable as learning shifts to virtual lessons and assignments. Further, more time spent indoors translates into more gaming, TV and YouTube time for children as parents are preoccupied with office work and household chores. This increased exposure is bound to leads to mood swings, irritability and other behavioral issues.

So as parents, what we can’t avoid, we have to optimize! Watch Netflix shows or game together (if gaming is your cup of tea) as a way to bond with your child at least for sometime in the day. Use technology and digital devices to stay connected with friends and families. This would give a sense of social connectedness and normalcy while also involving the children in the process of finding out how older relatives are doing and coping in different parts of the world. Make use of available social media and video conferencing tools.

Utilize free online resources- they are plenty available at this time – e-learning platforms, online libraries, trial coding classes etc to keep the children gainfully engaged. Most of the enrichment and tuition centers have rolled out virtual lessons. Subscribe to those not only to keep the children engaged but also so they can polish their skills and learning during the circuit breaker period. Encourage the older children to pick up a hobby he or she can pursue at home – creating videos, simple gaming apps and more. [Watch this space for our next feature on online enrichment classes.]

Give them the Opportunity to Vent Out:

Understand that this is a hard time for the children and they may feel overwhelmed and confused. Not being able to meet friends, not being able to play outdoors, adjusting to a new daily schedule is especially hard for the kids.  There may be yelling , tantrums and meltdowns as children try to adapt to the new normal. Give them the opportunity to vent out their emotions. Art, blogging, vlogging are ways to vent out pent emotions. Letting them connect virtually with friends and cousins is another way to keep sane in the situation of continued lockdowns and stay-ins.

It might be very frustrating for the child to have a birthday in this period. Sit them down and talk to them when birthdays and other milestone events get cancelled. Explain why you can’t invite friends over or go out for a family dinner or bowling game. Replicate with virtual parties and virtual cake cutting. Manage their expectations and be 100% present with them for their special day.

Create Memories as a Family:

Finally, take this time as an opportunity to create precious memories together (and those Instagram stories too)! Cook and bake with older kids, solve puzzles with younger ones. Watch TV shows or Netflix movies together. Create music, sing and dance. Workout together, exercise, teach them mindful meditation and practice it together. Read to them and read with them. Play, play and play!