Helping Kids Through the “New Normal” of a COVID-19 World
By Laurie Gardner
You may have been reading a lot on social media about how to talk to your kids about the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are some things to keep in mind as you parent kids in hard places in this new (and hopefully temporary) normal.
Maintain routines. Routines provide the structure and stability that are the building blocks of felt safety. Uncertainty can bring a lot of fear to anyone and when you are parenting kids whose lives are saturated with uncertainty it is important to provide rhythms they can count on daily. Despite disruptions in the school calendar, attempt to maintain consistent morning and bedtime routines, and meals together as a family, and keep waking and bedtimes flexible but as consistent as possible.
Be calm. I recognize and often say that no one in the history of the world has ever calmed down by being told to calm down, but in this “new normal” it can be a helpful and much-needed encouragement. Take time to center yourself and discuss your fears with the Lord and other trusted adults before entering those conversations with your kids. Your reactions can easily escalate or calm your anxious kids. They need you to be bigger, stronger, wiser and kind (from circleofsecurityinternational.com) all the time but even more so when their anxiety is high.
Prevent or at least limit media exposure and news coverage, especially for younger kids. Having good up-to-date information is important and adults need to stay informed; however, information needs to be filtered for kids through a trusted adult. Kids in hard places are already on a heightened sense of alert 24 hours a day, and the added stress of information they can’t process can lead to toxic stress. This can inhibit their ability to think logically about what is happening around them. (For more on toxic stress and brain development check out this Building Stronger Brains video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmVWOe1ky8s.)
Acknowledge your child’s feelings with empathy and understanding. Don’t try to convince them not to be afraid, concerned or anxious. Instead, validate the feelings they are sharing with you as a step toward helping them. Younger kids often need help finding accurate vocabulary for their feelings. Gently say things like, “I can see you’re…(frustrated, upset, overwhelmed, scared, etc.)” Try to stay away from mad or angry which are often overused, rarely describe their true feelings, and are rather more about how their actions are perceived. Pay particular attention to kids who don’t have regular contact with family, as they are probably worried, anxious and concerned for their family’s well-being. Older kids may need to hear that you share their concerns but also need to be pointed to a constructive outlet for their emotions.
Bring kids back to the only place they can find peace and truth—Jesus. There are tons of resources out there for talking to your children about the current situation in light of the truth of Scripture; however, there is absolutely no substitute for your witness as they see you lean hard into Jesus and cast all your anxiety on him. The most exciting thing about this difficult time is the opportunity for the kids you are parenting to see an authentic vibrant walk with the Lord. What a great time to teach about selflessness vs. selfishness! Model praying for the people on the front lines of healthcare, people working at the grocery stores, and people who are losing their income like waiters and waitresses, community center workers, speakers and performers. In the midst of frustration at an event being canceled or a favorite restaurant being closed show empathy for people in those situations who are suffering their own frustrations There has never been a better time to live out Philippians 2:1-4, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
To dig a little deeper, here are some suggested articles that further develop some of these suggestions.
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