So here I am sitting at the desk in my kitchen nook, writing, after about four hours of sleep, having spent most of the night in my seven-year-old daughter's bed after she awoke with a nightmare.
I know all you other parents out there have similar stories.
There's the young child who had just learned to sleep peacefully through the night when the middle-of-the-night calls for "mama milk" began again. There's the usually even-keeled big kid who's suddenly having emotional outbursts worthy of a three-year-old's tantrums. There's the habitually bubbly tween who's suddenly stopped bubbling - in fact, she's almost stopped talking altogether.
Welcome to parenting in a pandemic.
The New Westminster School District is reaching out to offer some reassurance and advice for parents who are helping their children through the stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19.
“It’s important to remember that it’s totally normal for anybody to feel this way,” says a post on the school district’s website. “And those feelings could manifest in a number of behaviours or across a range of emotions: anger, sadness, emotional distancing, regression into earlier developmental stages (things like bedwetting for younger kids), irritability, new struggles or outbursts at points of transition, to name a few things you might notice or feel happening.”
If you’re nodding along to all of that, never fear. You’re not alone. There are some techniques you can use to help, and the school district has helpfully offered a list of ideas for parents.
But. (It's such a big three-letter word, isn't it?)
It's also a list that's likely to just add on to parental guilt, if you're not careful. This, by the way, isn't on the school district. Nowhere on this list does it tell me I should feel guilty about not following everything on this list to the letter. I just happen to know that mom guilt - make that parental guilt of all kinds - means we'll all read the list and sigh to ourselves, "Oh, great, more advice I'm failing to follow."
Don't do that. Don't take the strategies and tips below as a list of commandments that must be followed every day. Some days you’ll feel like you did well on many of these. Others days you’ll feel like it was an accomplishment just to put on some clothes and manage to keep the kids fed. That’s OK, too.
For me personally? “Spending more time with a trusted adult” is a fantastic suggestion. So is “being extra engaged.” But the reality is, I have a (more than) full-time job, and so does my husband, and we still have meals to cook and laundry to do and groceries to buy, just like everyone. So engaged time with her parents isn’t something my seven-year-old is getting enough of. And that’s just a fact.
If you too read the list below and find it daunting, cut yourself some slack.
Use the tips below as guidelines, but don’t use them as a checklist to measure how well you’re doing as a parent. This isn’t a test. There aren’t grades. Don’t compare your results to someone else’s. This is new territory for all of us, and we’re all doing the best we can with our own personal situations.
With all of that said, use this as a guide – and give this advice to yourself in a spirit of compassion and grace, knowing that there is no “pass” or “fail.” Take it for what it is: an extremely useful list of strategies and tips that the school district is offering up to help both caregivers and children through this emotional rollercoaster we’re all riding.
TIPS AND STRATEGIES
- Reassure your children about their safety and health. Remind them of things they can do, such as proper hand-washing and social distancing.
- Listen to students/children. Encourage them to share their feelings and ask questions, and provide them with age-appropriate information in return. (See additional resources below.)
- Do your best to answer their questions honestly, and look up information (from trusted sources) if you need to find an answer you don’t know.
- For younger children, spending more time with trusted adults can provide reassurance. When you can, try your hand at pastimes like baking, art projects, board games or making meals together. Or spend quiet time reading together, or get outside to play.
- For older children, consider controlling the content they’re exposed to and the way they’re taking it in. Consider how much they’re seeing on social media, and be mindful of what they are exposed to in conversation and on the news. Consider whether viewing news together can open discussions and allow them to ask the questions they already have.
- Routines are helpful for everyone, and maintaining familiar activities and routines as much as possible can help reinforce a sense of security. Where your old routines can no longer happen, try creating new ones – such as set patterns or times of day for walks, remote learning, yoga, reading, free play and more.
- Focus on the positives. Talk about gratitude, find reasons to celebrate and use the time (when you can) to be a bit extra engaged as you spend time together as a family.
- Stay healthy and active. Do what you can to look after your physical health: go for walks in less populated spaces, eat good food and make sure everybody is getting enough sleep.
- Point to the leaders and helpers. Talk to kids about the fact there are experts and leaders at every level working hard to keep people as safe as possible, in addition to you.
- Check yourself. Situations like this can be challenging for everyone, regardless of their age. Consider what your children may or may not be picking up from you. And look after yourself as well, seeking support where you need it.
- Remind your children – and yourself – that this is temporary, and this too shall pass.
The school district has also provided this excellent list of links:
Looking for a tool to help talk to your kids about what’s happening? CBC Kids News and the BC Provincial Health Officer made this video: https://www.cbc.ca/kidsnews/post/watch-coronavirus-facts-versus-fiction
Is your child a tween? Here’s an article that outlines some of what you might want to say and what you might want to skim over more lightly:
For the most factual content on the science of COVID-19 and what’s happening in BC, try the BC Centre for Disease Control: http://covid-19.bccdc.ca/
If you are your family are feeling anxiety around COVID-19, the Canadian Mental Health Association has this great guide to managing anxiety: https://cmha.bc.ca/news/managing-anxiety-covid-19/
For a deeper dive into the psychology and tips on how to talk to kids about COVID-19, here’s a tool out of the US that’s great: https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/health-crisis-resources/talking-to-children-about-covid-19-(coronavirus)-a-parent-resource?ck_subscriber_id=660953421
You can find this and other resources online at the school district’s COVID-19 info centre: