I think we can agree that it’s been a trying few weeks. Many us have had to cancel or postpone vacations and begin working from home (or even deal with job loss). Our favorite restaurants and stores have adjusted their hours or closed altogether, families with parents on the frontlines of this epidemic have extra stress, and now we are stepping in to help teach, as well! Anxiety levels are through the roof for us as adults.
But what about our kids? Overnight they went from a normal, steady schedule with friends, sports and teachers to staying in, learning virtually, and not seeing anyone outside of family.
Then this morning out of nowhere, my 6-year-old asked, “Mommy, do I have coronavirus?” It stopped me in my tracks! After assuring her that she does not have coronavirus (we have been doing our part in staying home and social distancing — my wine cabinet can attest to that), I realized I haven’t had an official check-in with my kids about how they are feeling about the whole situation.
So, here are some tips for helping your kids work through their own emotions surrounding COVID-19, and a few ideas on how to help them relax during this anxious time:
Have a daily check-in or chat with your kids. It doesn’t have to be any huge conversation, just a quick “Hey hon, how are you feeling today? Do you have any questions Mom or Dad can answer for you about what’s been going on… or anything else?” For younger children, simple answers may be better!
If your child is of writing age, let them journal. They can journal for themselves, or it can be a go-between for you and your child. I know when I was a kid, I wrote my parents notes sometimes because it was easier than talking.
If your little ones can’t express themselves in words just yet, let them draw a picture of what they are thinking about or what’s on their mind. Even if they can’t say what they are feeling, maybe they can choose a color that represents how they feel, or maybe they can draw a sad or angry face that will give you a hint. Maybe in that moment, they are fine, and you will get a rainbow with a smiley face!
Read books together. Mix it up between ones about how to deal with worries and silly, light-hearted books to make them laugh. You can also download this free digital book about COVID-19 written specifically for kids about the virus called Coronavirus: A Social Story by Carrie Zakrocki, COTA/L with illustrations by Christine Linde, M. Ed.
- Silly Books: The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak, Press Here by Herve Tullet, and Don’t Push the Button by Bill Cotter
- Books for Anxiety & Feelings: Bee Still by Frank J. Sileo, What To Do When You Worry Too Much by Dawn Hubner (6-12 years old), and Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods that Make my Day by Jamie Lee Curtis (4-8 years old)
- Book for Children Who are Missing Friends/Loved Ones: The Invisible String by Patrice Karst (4-8 years old)
Yoga. Yoga includes deep breathing and mindfulness and can help calm our minds and bodies (which can be good not only for dealing with COVID-19-specific stress but also for calming down before bedtime and/or when you can’t handle any more wrestling in the house). These two YouTube channels are free and have been helpful for my kiddos these last few weeks:
- Go Noodle: Be sure to check out the playlists tab, as there are SO many choices of videos — the Flow and Calming playlists are great for relaxing and meditation, and then there are TONS of dance and upbeat playlists, too!
- Cosmic Yoga: This YouTube channel is yoga in story form. The hostess named Jamie leads the kids through “Yoga, Stories, and Fun!” These are a bit longer, and there’s even a Frozen-themed video that lasts for 30 minutes. Winning!
Box breathing. If you don’t have time for yoga, teach your kids how to do box breathing. Draw a square on a piece of paper (or have them do it). Breathe in for four counts while tracing one side of the square. Then, hold for four counts while tracing the next side. Breathe out for four counts while tracing the third side and hold the exhale for four counts while tracing the fourth side. Next time they could just imagine the box in their mind or draw it in the air as they do the breathing.
Essential oils. Diffusing lavender, lemon and orange are great for reducing anxiety in all of us.
Dance it out. We have covered some ways to relax and take away worry, but sometimes, you just need to move your body. I encourage all of you to dance along with your kids. Mine love to laugh at my terrible moves, and a giggle fest ensues. Put on “Everybody Was Kung Foo Fighting” and let them make up their own American Ninja Warrior Junior course in the living room using blankets, pillows, and their imaginations (afterward play “Cotton Eye Joe” as a clean-up song and see if they can put everything back before the song ends).
Exercise. This one is similar to dancing, but it really helps. We are blessed here in Florida with great weather, so take advantage of it! Organize a game using a set like this from Amazon in the backyard, and let your littles wear themselves out. Take a walk or bike ride around your neighborhood and wave to your neighbors (from 6 feet away of course).
If your child is experiencing significant responses to all the life changes going on don’t be afraid to call your healthcare provider or find a counselor. PsychologyToday.com is one of the best ways to search for therapists. Many therapists are now offering telehealth and crisis support online.