We live in challenging times as we deal with a pandemic for the first time in a century. It has upended the rhythm of daily life and in particular how the family functions, particularly one governed by a custody order. Following the lead of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), we want to offer some advice over a series of posts to address different perspectives of parents and children. In this second post, we suggest ways parents can empower children during the coronavirus outbreak.
First, tell children the truth. It will not help a child in these dangerous times to minimize or worse erase the risks to personal health. Not all young children will understand in full, but they can understand hygiene and will appreciate instruction on cleanliness. Similarly, kids of all ages may have difficulty separating from friends, but that does not mean friendships end. Arrange for children to have virtual contact with friends and keep them aware that physical separation is for their health and safety right now.
Second, it is good to acknowledge any fears children have right now. This entire experience has upset almost every aspect of the world as your children know it. Being afraid is a natural response. They may worry that they will never get to play with their friends again, or that they or you may get sick. It’s important to acknowledge fear but also to reassure them that everyone is taking steps to avoid infection and end the spread of the virus, and they can play an important role—by carefully washing their hands, for instance, several times a day, and taking care of their own health with good food, exercise and lots of sleep.
Third, teach children safe behavior by modeling safe behavior. Even the smallest and most fearful child can gain confidence by being taught steps he or she can take to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Washing hands and being healthy in general are good beginning steps. You can also teach your child about social distancing whenever she does go outside—to the park, for instance, or to the grocery store. Children can even have fun guessing and then measuring to see how big a distance six feet actually is.
Fourth, turn off the news! The news channels are covering this crisis in real-time around the clock. Anyone who watches this for any period of time will feel their anxiety increase. We live in a time of too much unknown, and watching the news will only make it worse. We are in a lockdown state, so to keep it positive you should put distractions on the screen.
Fifth, engage with your children and have fun. Zoom and the other apps mentioned earlier are not just tools to connect children with parents and grandparents. They are also great tools to bring children together on virtual playdates, which could involve baking cookies, doing an art project or having a dance party. Children can also connect with familiar teachers virtually for a play period, a pep talk, or a lesson.
Sixth, continue learning. While schools have either canceled or moved to online learning, parents should encourage completing work every day as much as possible. If you cannot help your child with schoolwork, admit it and see how you can connect your child to the teacher or another resource. Even with grading in an uncertain space, you should continue to instill good habits of regular learning because we will get back to normal, and when we do, we want our children ready for school, not mentally atrophied.
Finally, relax a bit where possible. Children are hearing so many “no’s” these days. You can’t go to school, see friends, visit grandparents, attend birthday parties, participate in sports. In this situation, it’s good to be able to say yes to something fun or even silly every once in a while, like having scrambled eggs or pancakes for dinner. Or have a day when everyone stays in pajamas for the whole day. Or having a mud pie party in the backyard.
If you have questions about parenting during COVID-19, contact us – we can help.