Children need stability to feel safe and secure, but in these uncertain times, a sense of anxiety over not knowing what’s coming next is common and very normal. As parents, it’s our job to hold our children tight and guide them through this tricky time. We sat down with Newcastle clinical psychologist, kids yoga and mindfulness teacher and acclaimed author Lynn Jenkins, for some practical advice on helping our children weather the Corona-storm.
Anxiety can manifest in many different ways. Knowing what behaviours to look out for in our kids, during this worrying time is important. “Children who are seeking reassurance, asking more questions, expressing that they are scared for themselves, their friends, their family especially grandparents are all changes in behaviours that we should be aware of,” explains Lynn. “Excessive hand washing or sanitising and poorer sleep due to ruminating at night are also things to watch.” Lynn explains that children can fall into two different types of anxiety behaviours – either the ‘flight’ type (withdrawing, avoiding, clinging) or the ‘fight’ type (hitting, kicking, increased nervous energy) and that parents need to be aware and ready to jump in and provide extra reassurance and love when our children need it most.
Talking It Through
With the media working in overdrive, reporting on everything from the toilet paper shortage to the number of cases rising daily, children are bound to be exposed to talk of the current world events at some point. But should parents actively talk about what’s going on with their children? “Depends on their age,” says Lynn. “For young children (preschool) just reinforcing (normal) hygiene practices is enough. For school-aged children it will probably be necessary to talk to them as they will be hearing information anyway.” Lynn says it’s important to speak in a very ‘matter of fact’ way and acknowledge that things are still being worked out but there are lots of adults who know what they are doing making decisions and rules that are aimed at protecting us. “Emphasise our safety and the changes that have been made to keep us safe like more talk of handwashing, sitting further apart from other kids at school,” says Lynn. “Our approach, words and tone of voice can be guided simply by understanding that their brains are listening out for whether they are ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’. If their brain assesses they are unsafe, they will feel anxious.”
The Big Questions
A lot of stress that is circulating for children (and adults alike) during this unprecedented time, is coping with the ‘What If’s?’ Lynn suggests sitting down with your little ones and try playing the channel changing game. “In the game, there are three channels- the ‘History’ channel (what has already happened), the ‘Right Here Now’ channel (the present) and the ‘Sci-Fi’ channel (what hasn’t happened yet),” explains Lynn. “‘What if’s’ live in the future, i.e., they haven’t happened yet, they are created and therefore when kids are having ‘what if’ thoughts they are tuning into the ‘Sci-Fi’ channel,”. Lynn suggests bringing children back to the ‘Right Here Now’ channel by helping them to notice something in the present (what they can see, hear, taste, smell, feel). This is mindfulness at its most simple and its best. “Parents can also emphasise that there are adults around their friends and family who will look after them and make the right decisions so they don’t need to take those worries on,” says Lynn.
Lynn’s Anxiety-Reducing Tips for Home
- Watch the news WITHOUT your children in the room -even the experts can’t be certain!
- Carry on as normal, incorporating hygiene practices as a normal part of family life and life in general.
- Talk about things OTHER than coronavirus.
- Be present with your children. Make room for fun connection activities like family movie nights, different dinners, games and more playfulness. This parental connection can help buffer scared little brains.
- Hug your kids at home! Let your children know that it’s still fine to hug at home (not at school) but at home. This will give kids a sense of safety and maybe clear some questions up for them about what is allowed.
If you’re worried that your child isn’t coping with the current state of events, there is help available. “The general rule is when their school, family or social life is being interrupted because of anxiety symptoms, then parents should seek outside help,” says Lynn.” You can make an appointment with a psychologist. You don’t need a referral but a referral from a GP (if the GP thinks a referral to a psychologist is warranted) will make sessions more cost-effective as they would be Medicare rebated.”
When Odette Tonkin isn’t writing, she’s chasing after her four kids on their Newcastle urban acreage, surrounded by her veggie garden, chooks and bees! Odette has worked as a newsreader, public relations officer and spent over ten years as a writer and editor at Pacific Magazines, writing for a bunch of magazines including TV Hits, Girlfriend, K-Zone, Total Girl, New Idea and Famous.