In this strange new world we find ourselves living in, children are looking to the adults they live with for guidance on how to cope and react. The following information has been written and collated for families of young children to meet their children’s emotional needs at this time.
STAY CALM + OFFER REASSURANCE
Children of all ages will have some awareness that things are not ‘business as usual’ just now. Calm acknowledgment of the changes that have occurred in your family, without catastrophising what is going on globally, is important and appropriate.
Even though your child(ren) may be too young to verbalise how they are feeling, they will be picking up on your emotional state so putting words to what they might be noticing can be reassuring for them.
When we help children make sense of the changes that happen in their world, this significantly shapes how well they cope with these. Putting (age-appropriate) words to events they see, hear or feel is important for young children. Think about how you are telling the ‘story’ of what they are living through at this time.
TUNE INTO TEMPERAMENT
Young children have different ways of coping depending on their experiences and their temperament. There are 4 temperament groups:
Easy/Flexible - Are: regular sleepers, good eaters, adapt to change without too much trouble, calmer, happier + not easily upset. Need: just as much attention as the others.
Spirited/Difficult - Are: energetic, enthusiastic and engaging, easily upset, less regular with sleeping or eating habits, have strong reactions to new people or places. Need: extra emotional support and to be helped with any changes in routine well in advance.
Shy/Slow-To Warm-Up - Are: quiet and shy, may withdraw from new situations + people. Need: you to stick to routines and be patient as they take extra time to warm up to the ‘new’ in their life.
Combination - about 30% of children won’t fall into one of the three groups above and will instead have a combination of these different temperament types. Your child might be Easy + Shy, Easy + Spirited, Spirited + Shy, or even all three groups rolled into one.
Tuning in to your child’s temperament means being aware of how they operate in the world and helping them manage when they show you they are struggling.
ADOPT STRATEGIES TO BUILD RESILIENCE*
Be a role model. Children will notice and follow your reactions and behaviour. They learn from your example.
Be aware of how you talk about COVID-19. Your discussions about COVID-19 can affect your child, even when they are overhearing you talk to someone else about this. If needed (and if it is true), remind your child(ren) that your family is healthy and you are doing everything within your power to keep loved ones safe and well.
Explain physical (social) distancing and/or Level 4. Young children may not fully understand why they can’t see extended family or friends at this time. Explain that the government (which is like the boss of New Zealand) has asked everyone to stay at home for a time so we can keep as many people safe and well as possible.
Practice deep belly breathing. Deep belly breathing is a valuable tool for calming the nervous system. Do breathing exercises with your children. There are some suggested links below which can help.
Focus on the positive. How we think about things matters so shine a light on what you can do rather than on what you can’t. Celebrate spending time as a family. Make it as fun as possible. Sing, laugh + get outside daily. Use video calling to connect with friends and family.
Establish and maintain a daily routine. Keeping a regular schedule provides a sense of control, predictability, calm and well-being for young children. Be flexible within a general structure.
Offer lots of love, affection + connection. Because for many of us it’s all we have to offer right now.
* adapted from www.nasponline.org
TAKE ACTION IF NEEDED
Most children will manage well with the current situation with the support of their parents/caregivers but if you notice changes in behaviour that persist and/or get worse, take some action.
Behaviours to keep an eye out for include a return to things they may have grown out of (like thumb sucking, bedwetting or clinging to parents) or other disrupted behaviour (like sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, regression and/or withdrawal).
Asking older preschool-aged children how they are feeling - and then listening and responding as needed - may be enough to help them. Making a guess about how younger children are feeling and using words to show them you are there to help may also be reassuring.
If you need professional help, call your G.P. in the first instance or see below for helpline contact numbers.
And remember: taking care of yourself is important too!
ACCESS USEFUL LINKS
Information Links to Support Parents -
From NZ organisation, S.K.I.P. (Strategies with Kids | Information for Parents) a portal with tons of information and to do’s for families.
Useful information for parents/caregivers from Zero To Thrive on Helping young kids through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
ZERO TO THREE’s page of links called Tips for Families: Coronavirus. My favourites are age-appropriate responses to questions toddlers might ask and a general Q+A page which answers parent’s queries.
Activity Links to do with Young Children -
Sesame Street have started a page called Caring For Each Other which has videos, games and art ideas for young children.
A video picture-book reading called Time to Come In, Bear which explains physical (social) distancing in an easy-to-understand way.
Storyline Online has a wealth of videos featuring celebrated actors reading picture books alongside creatively produced illustrations.
ZERO TO THREE offer an at-home activity guide for infants + toddlers with ideas for indoors and outdoors.
Go Noodle has movement and mindfulness videos created by child development experts which are available for free.
Smiling Mind, an Australian organisation, has web and app-based mindfulness activities for the whole family, most of which are free.
Self-care Links for Adults -
Smiling Mind have just released Thrive Inside: a special initiative to help us stay calm and healthy in the physical constraints of our homes, while remaining calm and healthy inside our minds.
A useful two page document from the NZ Institute of Wellbeing & Resilience™ on Real-time Resilience Strategies for Coping with Coronavirus and a dedicated COVID-19 webpage they update.
Me-Mo, a visually engaging Instagram account run by a Kiwi doctor brings you daily tips, ideas and inspiration to help you take time for yourself + your own mental health.
New Zealand Helplines -
Parent Helpline: 0800 568 856 - for parenting advice.
Healthline: 0800 611 116 - for health advice about your baby or child.
PlunketLine: 0800 933 922 - for advice about child health or parenting.
Family + Community Services National Directory : 0800 211 211 - this helpline will transfer you to the appropriate service you need.
Need To Talk: free call/text 1737 - to talk to/text with a counsellor 24/7.