The global Coronavirus outbreak has led to a high level of uncertainty and worry. Because the issue has been heavily covered in the news most children and young people will have some degree of awareness but, what they understand and how they feel about it might be less clear.
Here are 10 pointers to help you and your children take positive action towards maintaining your wellbeing:
1. Look after yourself
Because prolonged stress decreases our immunity, make sure you are being healthy in your choices and making space for you to feel OK too. For example; give yourself a limit to how much you check the news for updates – once or twice a day is fine (our smartphone addictions aren’t helping us or our children) and talk through your worries with another adult to air them and gain perspective. Remember that the news is good at reporting scary stuff. Choose good sources for up to date information such as the World Health Organisation and covid19.govt.nz, or watch video logs of people who have had the virus and recovered for perspective and balance. If we are fine, our kids will tend to be too.
2. Distance yourself from your ‘internal radio’
Get used to checking in with the background noise in your head. If left unchecked, these thoughts can dictate our stress levels and often aren’t very helpful. Try naming anxious thoughts as they happen. When we stop to acknowledge our thoughts they quieten. This comes from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which looks at how we deal with uncomfortable feelings rather than trying to make them go away.
For example – I’m noticing I’m having a worry thought about (insert worry scenario here). Acknowledge the thought, pause then move on.
3. Provide your kid’s with reassurance about their safety
At times of stress, children turn to their trusted grown-ups for clues about how they should be feeling and responding. They will need to be reassured regularly that they are safe, and that the adults will do everything that they can in order to keep them safe. This is exactly why there are travel restrictions in place and why we are being asked to temporarily change the way we live. Talking about how we are working together to create solutions raises hope and optimism.
4. Provide opportunities for children to be honest about their feelings
Let children know that it is alright to be upset or anxious, but don’t assume they will be! Checking in with your children to see if they have any worries can help to start conversations about what they understand and how they feel about it. Don’t do this obsessively though as you don’t want to create concern where there is none. You could try asking if they have any questions if you see a sign outside of school or if something comes up on the news. Acknowledge that it can feel overwhelming and scary, but there are things we can do that help us feel better and also help others too. Anxiety tends to come from the uncertainty – so give your kids some control.
Try things such as:
· Washing hands, which is one way that kids can proactively take care of themselves and others
· Make a self-isolation timetable fill it with fun and interesting stuff so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming if and when it happens
· Take vitamin C and talk about boosting your immune system
· Laugh and enjoy nature – sadness and low mood diminish your immune system so practice gratitude for what you do have
· Explain that things need to change so that they can get better
· Talk about the positive impact on the planet
5. Get some temporal perspective
Fast-paced changes in information and constant news updates can make us very focused on the minute by minute and create worry about what might come next. This can feel very overwhelming, so talk about the future. For example; what you plan to do next summer, or talk about what lessons you think we can learn from this experience and then take forward with us to make our lives better. This gives a sense of the passage of time and that this event is transitory rather than permanent. This too shall pass…
6. Be factual in response to questions
The amount of fact and honesty depends on your child’s age and stage so you are the best judge of this. However, it doesn’t hurt to explain that viruses can’t do much damage without help and there is a lot we can do to not help them. That’s why people are being asked to stay at home and limit their travel – viruses can only spread with our help. Even if we do get Covid-19 (yes, use the name. If we name it, it becomes something less scary – think Voldemort in Harry Potter) the chances are that we will recover well and children particularly, seem to be OK. If you are asked about people dying then say yes, people have died, but the majority of people get better and get better on their own. Our main job now is to help to slow the spread of the virus to ensure that those who need help can get it when they need it.
7. Stick to your typical routine as much as possible
Routines create certainty and certainty creates a sense of safety. Try to keep bedtimes and dinner times consistent and make sure that you create space in your day to listen to what your children need to tell you.
8. Focus on your child’s skills and strengths
Focus on naming your child’s skills and strengths as you see them come up in their daily life. Help them to see they have many strengths to help them cope if they are feeling anxious or upset. A good way to do this is to reference a challenge that they have overcome in the past or help them to think about a way to use their skills to do something positive.
9. Encourage kotahitanga and look for opportunities to help others
Acts of kindness, service, and humanity help to restore positivity and hope. Think about ways in which you and your family can actively do something positive for others or the planet. This puts you and your child in the mindset of “helpful” rather than “helpless” which is a more emotionally healthy place to be.
10. Get moving and boost your emotional wellbeing
Exercise creates endorphins in the brain which counteract the stress chemicals cortisol and adrenaline. Remember self -isolation doesn’t stop you from going for a bushwalk or a run on a beach. Also, take the opportunity to smell the flowers, reflect on what matters and focus on the good. It’s not often we get a mandated slow down – take it day by day and try not to worry too much over what comes next.