Helping Your Children Cope with Our New Normal

September 8, 2020

As parents and their move into yet another school semester of distance learning, on top of the continuing demands of the pandemic and all that brings with it, the team at Women’s Health Associates grows increasingly concerned for the mental and emotional wellbeing of our patients and their families.

This often feels like “an impossible time,” because the messages are conflicting, emotions are high, and managing fear (and stress) levels is exponentially challenging in the era of the 24-hour news feed. You are not alone in your feelings of despair and isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

5 Ways to Help Your Child (and you) Cope with the Pandemic Changes

To that end, we want to share a handful of things to help your children (and you!) cope with the new normal that the pandemic has wrought upon us.

Have a toddler or two at home? Visit Surviving Quarantine with Your Toddler.

1. Take big huge breaks from the media

If you’ve been following the headlines, you know there isn’t a whole lotta change from day to day in terms of fresh headlines. In other words, taking a hiatus won’t change what you know – and what you don’t – about COVID or the world around you.

And, your child’s increased access to distance learning dependent-digital gadgets and computer screens means s/he’s more likely to hear or see disturbing information without the ability to process it in healthy ways. Make yourself available as much as possible to help children process what they may be hearing or seeing online, the television, or your adult conversations with family and friends.

2. Create a new schedule for the new normal

One of the most stressful things about this time is that somehow the structure of society is pretending that a Monday through Friday, 9 – 5 schedule works, when it doesn’t work for many households juggling work and distance learning.

Try to create a new schedule for this new normal, which honors the mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing of your children. If that means having to be more flexible about late work, grades, and general academic success – so be it.

This is your time to model to your children how valuable it is to listen to your body and your feelings, and to honor what they need. If you are a people pleaser, it may be uncomfortable to stand your ground if you encounter a teacher or administrator setting firm boundaries, so this might be good practice for you, too! Nobody knows your child and your household’s needs better than you, so remember that you are actually the “expert” in that domain.

3. Check in with your children about their feelings on public safety

For the next several months, there will be varying degrees of “opening up” and (maybe) shutting back down. As things open up, check in with your children about how they feel participating in public life. It may be that they are more fearful than you, and if that is the case, we recommend having a family meeting to help support their fears and find ways to honor the family’s needs and schedules, while simultaneously supporting and taking care of your children’s sense of wellbeing.

On the flip side, you may have children who are rarin’ to go at the chance of returning to school, sports, extracurricular activities, church youth groups, etc. However, odds are that the “return” will not be back to the way things used to be. Prepare children for the “new normal” even after social distancing and distance learning are gradually pulled back.

  • Wearing masks
  • Keeping a distance
  • Less touching or close physical proximity
  • Limitations regarding the number of children in a group or in an indoor space at one time
  • Extra hygiene practices, etc.
  • Washing hands for two minutes with soap and water
  • Using hand sanitizer (you may want to give add small lotion bottles to their backpacks to counteract the accompanying dry skin)

Explaining how things might look or feel different, and then spend time practicing these things at home to help your children feel more comfortable.

4. Take care of yourself

If you are a mess, feeling stressed out, or completely overwhelmed – your children will struggle to feel safe and secure no matter what you tell them. It’s absolutely okay to be honest about how you feel – in age appropriate ways. There is nothing wrong with telling a child that you, too, feel scared/confused/frustrated/irritated for “no reason,” etc. By doing so, you validate and help them to identify their own feelings.

Then, share what you do to take care of yourself – and do it, so they can see you in action. This includes things like:

  • Getting outside for some exercise each day
  • Establishing healthy sleep habits
  • Taking time to laugh out loud (comedy videos, anyone?)
  • Nourishing your body with good foods
  • Practicing stress management techniques (breathing, stretching, keeping a gratitude journal/list)
  • Spending more time loving on your pet(s)
  • Limiting screen time (see below)

It is impossible to truly and openly care for others if you are depleted. So, taking care of yourself is truly one of the best things you can do to help your children cope with this or any other life stress that comes along.

5. Set healthy boundaries around daily schedules and tech

We highly recommend creating daily checklists to keep children focused on their tasks, including checkboxes for things such as:

  • Taking a stretch or outside break
  • Eating a good snack
  • Hugging or appreciating a fellow family member
  • Doing a chore that gets them moving
  • Doing something nice for themselves
  • Doing something nice for someone else
  • Taking the dog for a walk

Make it relevant to your child’s interests and needs, and include any tasks that support the household at this time.

The checklist can include specific time periods for “fun tech time” that keep children from overdosing on screens. Most internet providers have parental controls that help you identify your children’s devices and then identify times they can – or may not – connect to the internet.

Women’s Health Associates invites you and your family to be gentle with yourselves as we continue to navigate this present “new normal.” We’re here if you need us.