Frank Schofield, superintendent, Logan City School District
I do not like being scared. I have never enjoyed haunted houses or scary movies, and as my children grow older, they are beginning to capitalize on that. For example, my 11-year-old daughter will try to scare me by jumping out from around a corner as I walk through the house.
Some of us enjoy the rush of adrenaline that comes from being momentarily frightened by a story or experience. Few of us, however, enjoy the feelings of fear that are caused by uncertainty.
Regrettably, the realities of the current COVID-19 pandemic have created these situations of disruption for many families. Many children are experiencing levels of disruption and uncertainty significantly beyond what they are used to, and that uncertainty can lead to anxiety and fear.
Fortunately, there are actions parents and caregivers can take to help students both minimize and manage those fears. Some suggestions from the clinicians and experts at the Child Mind Institute (childmind.org) include:
Keep routines in place: Experts agree that as much as possible, setting and sticking to a regular schedule is key, even when you’re all at home all day. Kids should get up, eat, and go to bed at their normal times. Consistency and structure are calming during times of stress. Kids, especially younger ones or those who are anxious, benefit from knowing what’s going to happen and when.
Be creative about new activities — and exercise: Incorporate new activities into your routine, like doing a puzzle or having family game time in the evening. Build-in activities that help everyone get some exercise (without contact with other kids or things touched by other kids, like playground equipment). Take a daily family walk or bike ride or do yoga — these are great ways to let kids burn off energy and make sure everyone is staying active.
Manage your own anxiety: It’s completely understandable to be anxious right now, but how adults manage anxiety has a big impact on children. Keeping our own worries in check will help our families navigate this uncertain situation as easily as possible. “Watch out for catastrophic thinking,” Mark Reinecke, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist with the Child Mind Institute, said. For example, assuming every cough is a sign you’ve been infected, or reading news stories that dwell on worst-case scenarios. “Keep a sense of perspective, engage in solution-focused thinking, and balance this with mindful acceptance.”
In moments when you do catch yourself feeling anxious, try to avoid talking about your concerns within earshot of children. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, step away and take a break. That could look like taking a shower or going outside and taking a few deep breaths.
Stay in touch virtually: Keep your support network strong, even when you’re only able to call or text friends and family. Socializing plays an important role in regulating your mood and helping you stay grounded. The same is true for your children. Let children use social media (within reason) and Skype or FaceTime to stay connected to peers even if they aren’t usually allowed to do so. Communication can help all of us feel less alone.
Make plans: In the face of events that are scary and largely out of our control, it’s important to be proactive about what we can control. Making plans helps us visualize the near future. How can my children have virtual playdates? What can my family do that would be fun outside? What are favorite foods you can cook during this time? Make lists that children can add to.
Sometimes the path of least resistance is the right path: Remember to be reasonable and kind to yourself. We all want to be our best parenting selves as much as we can, but sometimes that best self is the one that says, “Go for it,” when a child asks for more time on the iPad. My son and I are watching Avatar: The Last Airbender together, and it has provided some positive bonding time for us.
Accept and ask for help: If you have a partner at home, agree that you’ll trade-off when it comes to childcare. Especially if one or both of you are working from home and have younger children. Everyone who can pitch in should. Give children age-appropriate jobs. For example, teens might be able to help mind younger siblings when both parents have to work. Most children can set the table, help keep communal spaces clean, do dishes, or take out the trash. Even toddlers can learn to pick up their own toys.
The events of COVID-19 have been disruptive for all of us. The fears that that disruption creates can lead to anxiety and depression. As adults take steps to help children manage these fears, children will be better prepared to face new challenges as they arise and be ready to adjust to whatever “new now” we all are required to face.