The COVID-19 is more than just a pandemic, but a war against our sense of normalcy and stability. It may be easier for us as adults to understand the changes around us and find resources or think of ways to cope with the stress and anxiety that we may be feeling.
However, changes can be highly distressing for children, especially the younger ones. If not handled well, it could result in adjustment issues or behavioural difficulties. This is especially so for children who are used to having extended family (grandparents, uncles, etc) or a nanny coming over to care for them, and might not have the cognitive capacity to understand the severity of the pandemic. With social-distancing measures, it could mean a “loss” of secure attachment.
The acronym B.E.A.R.S. provides simple guidelines on managing your child’s mental well-being during unprecedented times:
- Being present
It is easy to get carried away with work and the recurring changes brought forth by the pandemic. Even though the circuit breaker is allowing us to have more time with our children, we might not always be emotionally “present” with them. This challenges our ability to be fully attuned to the children’s needs and prevents us from soothing them in time when they are in distress. Being present means slowing down and focusing on one task at a time with the child. It reminds us to be mindful of the situation in a non-judgemental way, allowing us to savour the time spent with our family.
- Establishing routines (and keeping to it)
With the volatility of the COVID situation, a well-thought out routine is pivotal in cultivating a sense of security and stability in children. Even though school or childcare is suspended, children should keep to their usual sleeping and waking hours. If it differs too much, children might have difficulties adjusting once school resumes. To help children keep to their routines, try scheduling their preferred activity right after the “boring” ones (e.g. homework, Home-Based Learning). This helps to upkeep their motivation level during the confinement period. It is also important to include physical activities as it actively helps them to reduce screen time!
- Age-appropriate information
Children tend to have imaginative minds! It is important for parents to disseminate information according to their current level of understanding. Check in with children on their knowledge of the pandemic and build on that. Allow them to ask questions and have the space to discuss any difficult emotions (e.g. anxiety, fear, frustration, etc) relating to the topic. For older children with access to the internet, parents can guide them in discerning the credibility of the sources.
Emotional regulation refers to the ability to monitor, express and respond to the emotions experienced in a healthy and socially appropriate way. Regulating emotions does not mean denying tough emotions such as anger, frustration and sadness. Parents can begin this process by validating your children’s concerns about the pandemic. By doing so, it helps them to notice and process “big” feelings. Children gain a sense of safety when they realise that parents accept or normalise their vulnerabilities. Apart from acknowledging their challenges, discuss with them about what the family can do to keep safe and healthy. This can help children to gain a sense of control, which helps to ground them during distressing moments. Common ways to regulate emotions would be deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and sensory play activities. In addition, parents have an influence on children’s ability to regulate emotions. This is especially important for younger children, because they learn through mirroring their caregivers. Hence, parents should model appropriate self-regulation techniques so that children can benefit from it. For older kids, families can discuss with them on healthy ways to cope with distress and try these methods together.
- Social connectedness
Social distancing does not necessarily mean social isolation. Even though the opportunities for physical socialisation has reduced significantly, there are ways to foster connections again – through virtual means! Are your children missing their weekly time with the extended family? You could schedule video calls with your loved ones regularly to check in on how they are doing or have a “virtual” dinner together.
If you are a parent and have enquiries regarding mental health counselling for children & youths, please call TOUCHLine at 1800 377 2252.
TOUCH Integrated Family Group (TIFG) is TOUCH’s newest service group, set up in January 2020. TIFG focuses on Family Resources to help families cope with different stressors along their life course, transition of roles in Family Transitions, Relationships & Growth, and building Family Resilience. The group is made up of services such as ‘TOUCH Children & Youth’, ‘TOUCH Family Life’ and ‘TOUCH Family Enablement’.
With TOUCH’s multi-service experience in meeting the needs of disadvantaged children, youth-at-risk and vulnerable families since 1992, TIFG aims to equip families with resources and enable them to build resilience. This is done through an integrated suite of services to support the family as a unit, with emphasis on education, intervention and advocacy.