When kids want to know something, they invariably turn to the local experts who seem to know everything about anything, their parents. Although parents know they really don’t have all the answers, they do their best to answer a never-ending stream of questions from the kids. It’s also how most of us parent our children. We don’t know everything, but we do our best to help them along and offer the right guidance.
But what do you do when you’re in a situation nobody has faced before … such as a pandemic that has completely changed our way of life? The kids hear about people getting sick and overhear all sorts of discussions among adults and on TV, most of which only increase their anxieties.
You probably don’t want to lie to your children, but you also don’t want to be so blunt about everything that you frighten them unnecessarily. Your kids pay close attention to you and your behavior, so how you handle the situation will have a tremendous impact on their mental and emotional well-being. And, if the kids are calmer, you’ll be calmer, too.
For starters, limit the noise. We all have access to more media coverage than ever before, but that doesn’t mean we need to consume all of it. Besides, much of the media is more focused on getting you worked up than on sharing information. They sensationalize coverage and react to each new development as though it was the end of the world. If the average TV newscast raises your anxiety, think of the effect it has on your kids. If you feel you must watch news coverage, do it when the little ones aren’t in earshot. And when the kids ask you about stories they’ve heard, focus on the facts instead of the hype.
Another way to help is to provide and maintain structure in your home. With outside activities cancelled and people working from home, your normal day-to-day routine has probably been thrown out the window. So establish a new routine, even if you have to adjust it every week or so. Eat meals at the same time every day. Have regular activities and involve the kids. Maybe you can’t hang out with them for three hours, but you can set aside a half-hour every evening to play a favorite game.
Involve the kids in daily activities they can handle. They’re probably tired of being home, so introducing them to new activities may be more interesting than you realize. For example, if they’re old enough, have them help you prepare meals or help with laundry and housecleaning. Not only are you occupying their time, but you’re sharing skills that will become habits as they get older.
Don’t assume that you have to spend every waking moment of the day entertaining the kids. It’s important for them to learn how to entertain themselves, so respond to whining about being bored by suggesting they’re smart or creative enough to find something to do. It’s okay for everyone in the family to have some time alone, too, because that helps kids learn how to respect boundaries and each other.
Finally, use stressful situations as opportunities to deepen your faith and theirs. If the kids are worried about a relative become ill and facing death, talk with them about your view of God and what awaits those who die. If a particular situation is making one of them anxious, consider praying with them for guidance. You’ll deescalate the situation and teach them that prayer is part of your daily life, not just something you do on Sunday mornings.
If you’ve tried these techniques and nothing seems to be working, or if you’ve managed to convince yourself that you’re not very good at this parenting stuff, maybe it’s time to sit down with one of our professional counselors. We can help you explore the issues that are creating trouble and offer proven strategies to get things back on track in normal times and times like these.