How to take care of your child's emotional health during Covid-19
As kids deal with isolation and new routines amid overwhelming news of the ongoing pandemic, it's important to watch out for their emotional needs too
"There will be no physical school till the end of June; you will continue with online learning," I told my eight-year-old. Tears welled up in his eyes as he exclaimed, "School is no fun without friends. When will this coronavirus end?"
The above conversation is just an indication of the tumultuous emotions children are experiencing due to the virus outbreak. It's wonderful to see parents taking great measures to emphasise physical health, such as handwashing and sanitising. But what about taking care of their emotional health?
We have perfectly healthy children who are forced to stay within the confines of their homes. On one hand, they are exposed to news of the pandemic on TV and online, and listen to parents discussing the ramifications of a shrinking economy. On the other hand, they face isolation from friends, lack of physical exercise and a downward spiral in the amount of social interactions that they are normally accustomed to.
What is worse is, as parents, we can't promise them a date when things will get back to "normal". So, how do we provide our children with that critical support when they are in such a fragile state?
1. Talk to them about how they feel about the pandemic. You will be astonished to hear that, when you dig a little deeper, beyond the exuberance, you will uncover some deeper emotions. Whether they are feeling a bit sick and hence scared, whether they are feeling a bit lost or lonely, encourage them to name their emotions.
As they share, don't use minimising statements such as, "You are lucky we are all safe; there are so many people around the world who are dying." This makes them feel like they are not right in feeling what they are. Parents don't even have to be the problem solver, saying things like, "Why don't we play a board game?" Our kids are not looking for solutions; they want to be listened to. Thank them for trusting you with their feelings. Acknowledge their character with statements such as "You are demonstrating a lot of strength in the manner you are dealing with this."
2. Build a structure. Schools are trying their best to conduct lessons through online mediums. As parents, we need to ensure that the other essential elements that schools provide - structure and discipline - are taken care of.
Sit with your children and co-create a structure that includes elements such as learning, chores, music, social media, and creative activities - and ensure you hold them accountable for following that. Discourage late wake-up times and spending the day in PJs. Whenever there is a lack of structure, the child gets more confused due to the ambiguity.
3. Increase physical contact. Children are used to hugs, kisses, handshakes. These physical gestures provide a positive and soothing effect on the mind. So, hug a little longer and make them feel a bit stronger.
Remember our children's lives are going to be shaped by the choices we make in the coming weeks. Let's be cognizant of their emotional and mental health.
(Dipshikha Mitra is an emotional intelligence certified coach and her work includes personal coaching for kids and teenagers to help them deal with their emotions productively.)