Sitting with Uncertainty: Talking to Children about Coronavirus and Social Distancing

Rebecca Smith, PhD, BC Counselor
Child being held by mother

Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash

 

Children thrive on predictability and routines as well as social connection (so do adults). Our lives have all turned upside down and the coronavirus, as well as social distancing, can be confusing to children, especially when the timeline of how long this all will last is unclear and questions like, “When can I play with my friends again?” are not easy questions to answer.

We are all sitting with a lot of uncertainty as well as other uncomfortable emotions such as worry, anxiety, fear, anger, disorientation, exhaustion, sadness, etc. Some kids can tell you directly, “I’m feeling sad. I miss school” or “I’m angry at you—why won’t you let me play with the neighbors?” and others are not able to put it into words.

All behavior is communication, and children are communicating with us all of the time. For some kids, falling asleep on their own has become harder and bedtime routines might take twice as long as they used to, or they might be waking up more frequently at night. Sleep regressions, disturbances, and insomnia are common for kids and adults during times of prolonged stress. Especially for kids, sleep difficulties can be a form of worry or anxiety that they can’t yet put into words. It’s important to try to name the emotion for them (“I am wondering if you are feeling worried?”) and then to reassure and comfort them both verbally as well as with extra hugs and cuddles. Be honest with them and answer their questions with age-appropriate answers to the best of your ability. As you are doing those things, it’s also important to simultaneously take it easy on yourself and do the best you can with the juggle of working from home, distance learning, working on the front lines, rising unemployment rates, and trying to provide stability and new routines for yourself and your kids. To try to calm your kids and yourself when you might not be feeling calm is the challenge to lean into and embrace. Kids are often resilient, and adults can learn to be—we can learn a lot from our kids when it comes to flexibility and adapting to this new normal.

Things you can do to help create stability and predictability: follow daily schedules that Post Oak faculty have provided for students of all levels in our Distance Learning portal. Establishing a predictable routine helps children feel safe and secure. If there are changes to the schedule, try to let them know in advance whenever possible. At the end of the day, you might want to check-in with them and ask, “What was the best and worst part of your day?” and share with them what yours was. For younger students, creating a gratitude journal in which they write what they are thankful for on one page each day and you write what you are thankful for on the other page can be a fun way to practice cursive together as well as focusing on the things that truly matter and that connect us.

How to create a social connection for children in a time of social distancing? Some ideas include using technology to see and talk to the people you can’t visit but wish you could. Some kids enjoy doing a virtual playdate in which they talk to each other over the phone or through video chat, and other kids don’t enjoy connecting in this way. For younger children, they can draw a picture for a friend or make something for someone else and take a picture of it—then send the picture until they can give it to them in person. For some, walking, running, biking, scootering, and skateboarding in the neighborhood has become popular, and it can be helpful to get fresh air and explain what it looks like to keep a distance of six feet from non-family members or neighbors. When kids are around other kids in the neighborhood, it can be really hard for them to maintain a social distance of six feet. In a calm way, you can remind them of the importance of social distancing, the reason for it, and you can reassure them that this will not last forever. Social distancing doesn’t mean you don’t go outside—it’s about awareness and proximity to other human beings outside of your home unit.

The social connection you provide your children is huge and not to be underestimated.

two students following a yoga class

Photo courtesy of the De Vera family
 

If the child has a sibling, those relationships become even more important and can also become more tense or stressful, given how much time they are spending together. Doing mindfulness-based activities together, such as deep breathing and yoga, or simply doing the laundry, cleaning, or cooking together and giving the activity as well as your children your full attention (when you can and being gentle with yourself when you can’t) is huge. And taking care of yourself (not just taking care of your kids), knowing how to ground yourself and who to turn to when you feel overwhelmed or lost is important. Mindfulness coach, Beth Reese, is giving free mindfulness classes to Post Oak Parents. We are all in this together, and in some ways, we are even more connected to each other than we ever have been.

Please remember that Post Oak counselors are here to support the students. Parents, please reach out to us (Rebecca Smith for lower school and J’anvieu Pilisi for Middle and High School) (initially through an email and we can set up a time to talk) with any questions or concerns and we can also communicate directly with students as needed. We are part of your support team.

Below are some articles to read to help address questions related to how to talk to kids about COVID-19, how to help kids cope with stay-at-home orders, as well as how to talk to kids about social distancing:

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