Let’s not sugar coat that having your children home full-time from school can be a challenge. However, it’s important to note that they may be struggling with this change as well. You may have noticed some unpleasant behaviors surfacing as the days pass. Those fun schedules they were excited about at first may not be doing the trick anymore. If you find your children acting out, don’t panic. There are some adjustments that can be quickly implemented that may give you, or your littles, some peace of mind.
If you have a toddler at home:
Do your best to keep their schedule as close to what is has been as possible.
You may need to ask the daycare for an outline of their schedule to keep it similar. Schedule = security. It is tough to be a toddler in times of uncertainty. Imagine having your entire environment and day to day schedule be changed and not be able to communicate how you are feeling about these changes. Providing a sense of safety and routine might be all your little one needs to control the random tantrums they may have started to perform. If your toddler has begun the “no” phase this may be a particularly challenging time to tackle that. But, the more you allow your child to say “no” (within reason) the quicker they will move past this stage of autonomy versus shame and doubt. A strategy to avoid a power struggle with your toddler is by giving choices. If you are making lunch and you say “What do you want for lunch?” Leaving this open ended allows for them to give an answer you may not allow- a popsicle! This can quickly turn into a power struggle of you saying no and the child becoming upset. Instead, try giving two acceptable choices and letting them decide. This gives them the power to make their own choice but you also will be happy with either answer. Example- “Would you like pb & j or grilled cheese for lunch? You choose!” You can do this with choosing activities, snacks, and even bedtime (“Should we read 1 or 2 books tonight? You choose!”)
If you have a preschooler at home:
They may be a little more vocal about the new feelings they are experiencing.
At first, they might have been really excited about being home all day with mom, dad, siblings, etc. As time has gone on you might feel like they are beginning to test some boundaries. Take a moment to think about all the friends, teachers, and extended family they might be missing. A great way to help them communicate these feelings is by talking about your own feelings, but at their level. At night you can take a few minutes to say, “Wow I really miss grandma and that makes me feel sad, maybe tomorrow we can call her! Are you missing anybody? How do you feel when you miss __? Do you want to write them a letter tomorrow?” Another great way to help your preschoolers understand the emotions they are having is a feelings chart. You can create your own by making two columns. The first says I am (emotion). You can pair this with a visual to help them visualize the emotion. Then, the second column can say When I feel (emotion) I can … and let your little one brainstorm ideas with you of appropriate things they can do when feeling that emotion. Always do this before an emotional outburst NOT during. Revisit this while your child is feeling happy so they will have it in their back pocket when they begin to get upset, sad, mad, etc. I have added an example of one of these charts below.
Example of a Feelings Chart:
Another great strategy is to create a ‘Cool Down Corner’ in your home. This should be a soft, quiet space that your child enjoys. This area should be used mainly when your child needs to cool off. If they are becoming overwhelmed by their emotions guide them to this area and give them the option to snuggle with a stuffed animal, read a quiet book, or maybe practice taking deep breaths. Give your child space, we all could use some space when we are overwhelmed! Then give your child the control to come to you when they are feeling better. Some sort of positive affirmation, whether it be verbal or physical, is always a good idea after your little one has cooled off. You want to reinforce the positive behavior of cooling off instead of letting a tantrum get out of control. Some examples include, a big hug, a high five, or saying “I really liked the way you took a break and calmed down”, “I still love you even when you are upset, are you feeling better?”
If you have a school-aged child at home:
It’s likely they are still adjusting to balancing learning from home, being around their siblings and parents constantly, and still finding time to play and
be a child!
You always want to set your child up for success. If space allows create a separate space for learning. Try not to bring the school environment directly into a space where they are used to playing and being creative with no boundaries. Much like how us as adults like to separate work life from home life your children are used to separating school from home. Your child may also need help communicating their needs during this time. For example, they may be feeling overwhelmed by being constantly surrounded by the same family members. You can help your child communicate that they need some space with a simple activity. Your child or you can design a door sign using words or symbols to express on one side “I need some space right now” and on the other side “I am ready to talk and spend time together” This way if your child is overwhelmed instead of having to verbally express this, they can simply go up to their room and switch their sign. Then, they have the independence to flip their sign around when they are ready. Do your best to respect their sign and their need for space. With boundaries of course. You can set some guidelines to when it is ok and not ok to be alone.
If you have a teen at home:
There is a good chance one of their biggest struggles is missing their social life.
Between sports, clubs, and other activities your teens are grieving a lot of the things they looked forward to. Luckily, there are several ways to connect through technology. Allowing them some private time to connect with their friends is important. If you are worried about screen time you can try ‘phone free meals’. This simply means eating together with your teen and not allowing phones at the table… including yours! You may also consider asking your teen what they look forward to doing once it is safe to do so. Make some tentative plans to give them and even yourself something to look forward to! You may also want to check in on your teenager’s feelings about the pandemic. I have linked an article written by a psychologist about how to help teens deal with anxiety that the coronavirus could be causing.
Remember to take time for yourself! Your reaction to this situation will play a huge role in the way your child reacts.
Children are constantly watching the adults in their lives to see how to act and react. The way you talk about the situation will most likely turn into their view of the situation. There are many resources out there on ways to talk to your child about covid-19 and the impact it is having on everyone’s lives. I will link some of the resources below if you need help finding age appropriate ways to explain this to your kids. Deep breaths, you are doing the best that you can in a time of uncertainty. Remember- children are resilient, they will be fine!