As a parent myself and working with families in the public sector, I often think about how we can collectively support our children during these times of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is an increasing amount of literature surrounding this topic, especially with the growing understanding that childrens’ mental health is negatively impacted by changes to their social life, cancelled extra curricular activities, and frequently adjusted modes of learning.
For this article, I wanted to focus on two positive, simple, and effective ways to support your child(ren): 1. Being present and listening, and 2. Managing the messaging that your child consumes. These brief pointers can help make a positive impact in your household.
Yes, hockey is cancelled, your kids can’t have friends over, and they miss walking the halls at school. All of this is hard. But they still have their number one support person – YOU, their caregivers. You can be a protective strength in all of this change for your child. Just by being present and listening to your child. By joining in with your child. How?
- Ask them questions like: how do they feel about these changes? Do they miss their friends and what do they miss the most? What is the first thing they wish to do when restrictions lift? What do they miss about school?
- Sometimes we shy away from these questions as it is hard to see our children hurt and be sad. So we avoid these tough questions. You don’t have to say a magical thing to improve/change their feelings or feel pressure to make changes to make them happier. Simply by asking the questions above and showing you understand how they feel can help. All you have to do is reflect the feeling back to your child – they will feel heard and understood. It helps your child feel close and connected to you. Show you care about what matters to them through your words. Accept their feelings without judgement. Emotions come and go and by talking to them about their tough feelings with kindness and love helps that wave of emotions.
- Let sharing be a positive experience for your child by listening. You can reflect back by saying, “It is so hard to feel those big feelings as life is full of changes right now, and I am right here with you.” Let them know it is ok if they feel upset or scared and that you are there to be with them in these moments of sadness.
- During this time, it is a good opportunity to give them extra snuggles and/or spend extra time playing with them. Younger children may not have the skills to talk about their feelings, but they often make extra bids for attention and communication through play. Giving them this 1:1 play time can go a long way in your child feeling supported and connected.
Another simple way to protect your child(ren) is to watch what type of messaging you are saying in front of them and what type and how much news content your child(ren) is exposed to. Your children watch and listen to you, which gives you the amazing ability to set the household’s emotional tone. How you as a parent cope and react will influence how your child will react and cope with ongoing stressors, including Covid-19. When you react calmly and confidently, you are providing the best support for your child. A simple way to protect against anxious feelings in your child is how you portray the news.
- Be clear about the facts but minimize unnecessary exposure to stories or gossip about the pandemic. An example of this could include watching the news without your child present.
- After you have the chance to react yourself, you can talk to your child and give them the information. This allows you to filter out some harmful content but still give your child the facts.
- Avoid catastrophizing by maintaining a balanced perspective. For example, you can focus on letting them know that many people are working hard to prevent the spread of illness.
- Try to be aware of the frequency with which you as a family are discussing the news. As a family, take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. It is important to stay informed so you can ensure you are following the latest health and safety guidelines and restrictions, but you also need to take breaks from the news and spend time together as a family, not talking about the pandemic.
If your child is having on-going trouble coping with their emotions or they are experiencing symptoms of stress (e.g., changes in sleeping patterns and eating habits, excessive worry or sadness, irritability and “acting out” behaviours in teens, returning to behaviours they have outgrown, losing interest in friends or activities enjoyed in the past) ask your family physician for help or contact a regulated health care professional for ongoing support.
If you are interested in reading more about how your relationship with your child plays a role in their emotional regulation, you may enjoy these book recommendations.
- How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
- The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
- The Power of Showing Up by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
- Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne
Finding a Psychologist
Most provinces have a professional association of psychologists for their province. These associations typically have a referral search feature to help you find a psychologist in your area. Below are the links to the Psychologists Association of Alberta and for British Columbia. Psychologists typically do pay a fee to be a member so the search results are limited to those who chose to pay that membership fee. Below you can also find an overview of mental health resources available provided by the Alberta Government.