Jodi Robbins – Calgary Herald April 11, 2020
2020 will undoubtedly be remembered as the year a pandemic brought the world to a halt and all of us home. Overnight, parents became full-time caretakers and part-time teaching assistants, while still managing their day job. It’s an unsettling, worrisome and downright scary time for adults, but what about the kids?
According to Tasha Belix, M.A., registered psychologist and author of What Do You Do With A Feeling?, how caregivers manage day to day life sets the tone for how children cope. She recommends parents give children the facts, but check their own stress levels at the door.
Parent educator Julie Freedman- Smith echoes this but cautions against oversharing. “There’s no value for young children
being told information they can’t process. Keep responses short and simple. If the child asks more, ask what they’ve heard, then you get to hear everything they think. That gives us an appropriate jumping-off point for what we need to share.”
“Take a step back, check in with your stress levels and gage how depleted your tank is. If
you try to help your kids and your tank isn’t full, it’s easy to become short-tempered. It’s
OK to worry a bit, but if we’re helping someone, we don’t want to add to their worries.
Try to acknowledge, listen and empathize,” she says.
To regulate or not to regulate
Though we’re all huddled at home together and school is (physically) out, it’s certainly no holiday. It’s a confusing time for many parents who are unsure if creating structure is the way to go or if they should loosen up a bit? Routine, according to Belix, is regulating.
“Trauma research, (like that from) school shootings, shows getting back to structure as quickly as possible helps kids get back to normal. Having those social signals that tell kids what to do next takes the ‘what ifs’ out of their day, so it’s important caregivers maintain bedtimes, mealtimes and daily activity,” she says.
We know social connectedness is critical to mental health. But physical distance doesn’t have to mean social isolation. This is when, if managed correctly, technology can be our friend. Now may not be the time to limit screen time.
“It’s not about screen time,” says Freedman-Smith. “The question is: Is tech getting in the way of what they need? Are kids getting outside and into nature? Enough sleep? Regular movement? Helping with daily chores? If those needs are met, you can ease up on the screen time restrictions — especially if they’re socializing with it.”
What to do with your kids now
In addition to providing daily structure and being more tolerant of TikTok, what else ought parents to be doing?
“As with any time when things feel like they’re out of control, we take control of what we can. Recognize we can’t go on with where we were. Think about how your lives are going to look for the next little while and how you’ll continue to do the things you all did before — with adjustments,” recommends Dr. Corinne Borbridge Austin, a registered psychologist at Solstice Psychological Services.
Finding projects and setting goals is not only a productive distraction technique but can lead to empowerment. What would your future self be proud of you and your family accomplishing during this time?
Belix recommends taking a three-prong approach: focusing on your body, mind and heart each day. We know exercise is important for our physical health, but it has the added bonus of moving anxiety through our bodies.
Breathing exercises, reading, mediation apps and yoga all help to calm the mind. Our brains also benefit from learning new skills. Consider tackling a project such as the Kids Connect 30 Day Photo Challenge by Calgary photographer Janet Hughes, which provides a month’s worth of photography-based challenges for kids and teens.
Additionally, your child could keep a COVID-19 journal or do so as a family. Keeping track of how life is changing around you, recording news updates and your response to
them serves not only as a historical record but can help process feelings and clear your mind.
As for what fills the heart, Belix suggests reminiscing on things that make you feel good. “Holding a positive emotion for 30 seconds changes the neurochemistry of your brain, which changes your physiology. If we live an experience again, our brain doesn’t know it’s not happening in the moment.”
Go ahead and leaf through old family photo albums together. Revisit a favourite book from childhood and make the most of your (forced) time together. 2020 will be remembered for many things, and we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to show children how we can work through even the harshest times, together.
Online learning resources
- For a comprehensive list of online learning resources visit: kidsactivitiesblog.com
- Scholastics is offering free online courses for kids during school closures:classroommagazines.scholastic.com/support/learnathome.html
- Classroom Champions provides mindful videos with Olympians and Paralympians to help kids through these difficult times, plus free curriculum and Facebook Live sessions so kids can chat with athletes. Register: teach.classroomchampions.org
- Kids Connect 30 Day Photo Challenge: kpaonline.ca
- Kidoodle.TV, a Calgary-based streaming video service for kids has launched HelpfulHands, a weekly program providing free and safe resources for families; ranging fromhomeschooling resources to parent tips to activities. Sign up: bit.ly/2UnzuUS
- Caribu, a family-friendly video-calling app, is offering free virtual playdates with friendsand family