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Dr. Desiree Dickerson, PreKure’s clinical psychologist, is living in Spain in total lockdown right now. Here she shares a few tips on how to talk to our kids about COVID-19.
As parents of small children, we’re not only managing our own wellbeing, we are in charge of the wellbeing of the people that we love. This COVID-19 virus is front and centre for all of us right now. It’s something that we are talking about all the time. You might be on the phone to your mother, you might be on the phone to your sister. We need to be conscious of how we’re talking about these things in front of our small people.
Some of us can be reasonably dismissive. I know that in the early days here in Spain it was like, ‘yes, but it doesn’t affect us’. We’re healthy and it doesn’t affect our kids. Awesome. ‘It doesn’t affect mum and dad because we’re young and healthy. It’s only affecting the old people.’ But remember, to young children we are all “old people”.
We really started to notice that our two ‘littlies’ were going to bed in a level of tension. There were more tears, more fights. There’s usually tears or fights, but there was a considerable degree more. They are feeding off our emotions and of how we’re feeling and how we’re coping. It’s really important that we talk to them about it. Kids take us at our word and they can worry about this stuff as well.
- Tell them the minimum amount of truth to satisfy their curiosity.
- Be conscious of what you’re watching on the television.
- Be honest with them. It’s okay also for them to feel worried and for them to think about these things.
- Create a space where they can come to you with questions.
- Be a role model – Tell them that you think about these things and worry about them too, but also tell them how you manage it, e.g. ‘This is what I do to calm down’ or ‘When I’m feeling this way, I do tummy breathing like this to calm myself down.’
Model good behaviour
I’d like to draw on that airline analogy – when you’re in turbulence, you look to the flight attendants to decide whether or not you should be worried. Our children use us for that same thing. Think about how you are managing your own internal emotions for the sake of our children.
Model good behaviour both at an individual self-care level and at the social level as well. Model social responsibility.
“Now more than ever, we need to behave responsibly for those around us and for those vulnerable populations.”
Keep a routine with the kids
Routine is always your friend. Routine minimises stress and anxiety in children. It also gives you a way to focus the day.
Get up and get changed as you always do. Eat breakfast at the same time. Set up little brackets of time wherever possible, and signposts for them how we’re going to move through the day. For us, we’re in lockdown in Spain, in a flat with two small children, and social isolation when in these conditions is tough. So you need to be creative. You need to maybe be lax on certain things like telly, but also not allowing too much. You need to get them moving. You need to get them burning some of that nervous energy that there’ll be feeling.
Let the kids be bored!
Don’t worry about boredom. Remember that boredom is great for our children. Don’t get engaged in that continuous boredom loop – “I’m bored, Mum. Tell me what to do”. Boredom is critical for their brains and for their development. If they’re in social isolation and they’re no longer at school, or that will happen soon, then downtime is great for kids. Let them stew in it. Let them come up with their own ideas.
“Let them be bored. Boredom is good.”
I’m in lockdown with my husband and two small children, a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old who cannot stop fighting. We’ve had to get really creative about how we get our own exercise and how we get them to run, because they are super energy-intensive kids.
We’ve invented Ninja training and the kids are obsessed with it. It involves us hurling cushions at our children, which is really cathartic and quite nice for us, while they duck, and we even run around the sofas like mad men. It burns tons of energy for them – and for us – and it decreases a lot of that tension with a really good laugh.
Other ideas include setting timers so that everyone in the house has to meet in the lounge and do ten press-ups each and then run back to do whatever they’re doing.