At first, school closures may be fun and exciting for most children – it can feel like an extra-long weekend or an early spring break. But soon, reality strikes and children realize that the COVID19 pandemic has caused many other fun things to be canceled – birthday parties, sporting events, extracurricular activities, weekend visits to see family. As your children come to realize that many of their favorite activities aren’t happening now – or for the foreseeable future – how can you help them cope with their disappointment?
This article in the New York Times offers advice from experts in psychology, psychiatry, and education. The main points are:
- First and foremost, keep your own emotions in check. Fear is contagious, but so is calm. Manage your worry, especially in front of your kids. If you can show them that even though you’re worried, you can control your fear, they’ll learn from you. You can practice mindfulness activities with your kids to break the cycle of worry.
- Pick the right wording depending on your child’s age. Younger children may not understand that staying at home is “the right thing to do” or “in the interest of everyone’s health,” but teens probably will have a better grasp of these concepts. For younger kids, you can explain that going out can make your family sick, and your family could then pass germs onto others.
- Listen. Validate your children’s feelings. Listen to their disappointment, and if they need it, help them label their feelings. Let them know that their friends and lots of other children are also feeling the same way. You can even tell them you’re a little worried, too. Rather than shielding them from disappointment, think about how your child can learn to manage the feeling.
- Develop a routine. Children of all ages thrive on routines. Involve your child in making a daily routine, at least for during school days, and put the schedule up where they can see it. Be sure to incorporate breaks for exercise and other physical activity, as well as snacks and free time.
Ultimately, practicing skills like these will help your child develop coping strategies that can foster resilience. Strengthening these coping “muscles” will help them deal with disappointments like these in the future.
Amanda M. Dettmer, PhD, is an Associate Research Scientist at Yale Child Study Center. Her research focuses on how disruptions to attachment in early childhood impact resilience and development.