I thought one of the most responsible things I could do would be to ask my friend and colleague Dr. Chavez Phelps to write a post aimed at our children’s caregivers to provide just a little more support for their expanding roles with the young people in their lives. His writing is a balm.
“While we make the necessary adjustments to our lives, we must remember to be a calming force for our children.”
The coronavirus, also known as the COVID-19, has had a significant impact on our lives. Many of us are stunned and scared by the ‘new normal’ that we must endure as we plan for a national outbreak of this virus. Sheltering ourselves is the best way to protect our loved ones. Many schools will be closed for weeks and even for the rest of the academic year. For many of us, especially our children, we feel like we have been unknowingly cast in a Jordan Peele movie. It has been dizzying. I have to admit, as a school psychologist, I am always thinking of ways to support children’s overall wellbeing.
While we make the necessary adjustments to our lives, we must remember to be a calming force for our children. Young children learn from the adults in their lives how they should respond verbally and nonverbally to stressful situations. Parents should ensure they are creating a supportive family environment which is caring and nurturing. We want children to feel safe during these unsettling times, so they must have the space to discuss their feelings. As adults, we should validate what our children are feeling and experiencing, which means we also express our own feelings. We want to conceptualize both our feelings and theirs as rational concerns, making sure not to cause any unnecessary anxiety or hysteria. There are family mindfulness activities (e.g., mindful walks throughout the house or in the backyard, mindful eating, or mindful breathing) that can promote a peaceful environment. Also, there are several children’s books that address painful feelings, such as Once I Was Very Very Scared by Chandra Ghosh Ippen. Overall, parents and other caretakers should be prepared to offer more attention and affection than typical.
“There has been so much misleading information reported that can be rather confusing for children. We must provide them with factual information.”
Further, maintaining a consistent schedule at home will be extremely beneficial. Parents should consider creating a visual schedule they can post on the refrigerator or the wall. During difficult times, being able to predict one’s day promotes healthy wellbeing. Children should complete their e-learning reading and math assignments in the morning. Make time for them to engage in fun physical activities. Include family board games or movie time into the daily schedule. Family reading time is a fun activity that encourages strong literacy skills. Although some are closed, many schools and public libraries continue to make e-books available during this challenging time. Many websites offer free, printable mindfulness coloring worksheets as well as other unique ways to visit, learn and socialize from home. Other fun family activities include preparing kid-friendly meals such as mini pizzas made with biscuit dough or blowing up balloons.
As part of the daily routine, parents should provide frequent reminders and demonstrations about personal hygiene, which includes washing one’s hands for 20 seconds. Parents can find fun YouTube videos to assist with teaching their children how to wash their hands. Remind them to refrain from touching their faces, particularly their mouths and eyes. Encourage them to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Teaching children how they can help prevent the spread of germs can give them a sense of control, thus alleviating or preventing anxious feelings or behaviors.
To help our children cope with this pandemic, we must monitor the amount of news they watch or read. After the 911 attacks, researchers found that children living in the Midwest experienced secondary trauma because of their frequent viewing of news coverage of the event. There has been so much misleading information reported that it could be somewhat confusing for children. We must provide them with factual information. Depending on the maturity level of a child, it might be helpful to outline the symptoms of COVID-19 and explain certain common concepts such as social distancing.
Remember, we will get through this! Let’s be a steady hand for our children. There is always a rainbow or two after the storm.
Chavez Phelps is an assistant professor of school psychology at Indiana State University. Dr. Phelps teaches courses in socioemotional assessment and intervention, ethics and law in school psychology, and child trauma. His research interests include child trauma as a form of social justice. Dr. Phelps offers professional development in trauma-informed care for school districts across the state of Indiana. He is a member of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Government and Professional Advocacy Committee, where he represents the central region of the United States. From 2009 to 2017, he functioned as a school-based practitioner in New Orleans, Louisiana working in nontraditional schools such as juvenile correctional facilities, adolescent mental health hospitals, and alternative high schools. For more information, Dr. Phelps can be contacted at chavez.phelps at indstate.edu.