As a parent I feel my job is be a bit of a bouncer. I deal with the serious stuff of adult life and keep home feeling like a safe place for the kids. This doesn’t just mean paying the bills or minimising virus germs but it applies even to my kids fears and perceptions. As a mum and someone who works at a highschool I see that kids need extra support at the moment and in all the panic this may be forgotten until all the kids fall apart.
We are going through the craziest time in history with the entire world in a crisis, non stop serious news, global school shutdowns, travel bans, and stockpiling of food. I find myself checking statistics and death tolls regularly.
However, let’s buffer some of this serious heavy stuff from our kids.
Our role as parents has never been so important! Right now we need to help our kids and teens feel ok during their never-to-be-repeated childhoods.
Why? My 16 year old is finding it really hard to focus on year 12 and says she feels constantly anxious. My 21 year old is quite stressed about the lack of food in the shops. Another mother told me yesterday her primary school aged child is distressed. This was because of the total and sudden end of school and dance classes. It is a lot of dramatic change and a child’s world can feel turned upside down. It means sudden loss of a lot of things: friends, teachers, routines, activities, places, and visits to grandparents.
They are also hearing a lot of serious conversations that can be scary to them (Internet, TV news, adults, other kids etc).
Fear or trauma overloads a child’s developing system as it affects things like hormone levels (cortisone and adrenaline), neural connections (developing pathways) and immune systems. The good news is that the presence of strong caring adults can make the world feel safe.
Let’s shoulder it and not let too much weigh on their little shoulders. Teenagers have bigger shoulders but they too can be disproportionately weighed down by adult sized problems. If they can see us big people staying calm and carrying on as normally as possible their childhood won’t need to end prematurely.
I think a really effective way to help our kids feel safe right now is through our household routines and family traditions. These help kids feel that life is still going on and the world is not about to end this week. For example, normal boring things like afternoon chores and homework. Cozy things are good too like pancakes on Saturdays, cozy music and candles. Then there’s sweet things like a weekly FaceTime with Grandma for a cheery chat. All this teaches them that even in a crisis, we can keep on going and it helps a child feel secure. And let’s keep those ‘no food in the shops’ and ‘death toll’ conversations to times when the young kids will not hear them.
When our kids were young we lived semi-rural and had chickens. We often said how we had to lock up the chickens at night or the fox could get them. We naturally assumed that our kids knew that foxes are small. We were wrong. When our kids were teens they told us that they were all TERRIFIED of the fox. They thought the fox was bigger than them. They were very scared of getting up to go to the toilet at night. They thought the fox would try kill them.
We have unfortunately all been scared needlessly as kids. It reminds us of two things. 1. Little people can be unnecessarily terrified or stressed because of lack of life experience. 2. Little people often don’t talk to their parents about their terrors – real or imagined. They keep living with the stress. If we adults think back we will remember many fears and stresses our parents still know nothing about! It might have been the monster under the bed or it may have been the horrendous bully at school. Our kids right now are bombarded with The Virus. It is closing down schools, taking the food out of the shops, and it may kill people.
Here are a few practical strategies for preserving our kids childhoods.
1. Minimise the fear of the global virus situation for children by being careful about what we say in front of them and what conversations they hear.
2. Minimise fear by keeping home life as normal as possible but even doing some extra fun and cozy things. More ideas on that later in this article!
3. Talk with them and find out what they are thinking. Don’t assume it will be a lot and don’t assume it will be a little. Just ask them and find out and reassure them. If you have quiet teenagers then try a family chat after dinner each night.
4. Praying together to God. This helps us all realise there is someone much bigger than us in the universe – who cares and has things under control. Even in a world that is a bit messed up by humans. When we give thanks and pray for things we hand our worries over to God.
With older kids the situation is a little different as they are reading all the serious stuff on the internet and likely know even more than us! It is really important to be talking with them and asking them how they feel. Chat about past crises in the history of the world that have come and gone. And remind them of their daily chores and Saturday pancakes (or whatever other fun thing) so they feel comforted and reassured that life is going on and home is especially safe and normal. Encourage some zany moments into each day. One of our teens shows us the latest memes and we can laugh together. It is a stress reliever.
Our young people (whether 5 or 15) do not have much life experience yet of going through hard things and coming out the other end. It is that limited life experience that makes things bigger. Perception is 9/10th of truth! Lets communicate with them more, hug them more, joke with them more, and do normal stuff..
Parents – here are some sweet things you can do right now to help your kids in this unusual time.
Play. Sit down and play with your kids! If you forgot how to, your kids can give you a refresher course. Build legos, go for a bike ride, play with play dough or bake cookies. Maybe you could sleep out with them in the cubby!
Saturday lollies. Despite being health freaks we do love this tradition – getting some candy each Saturday (and only on Saturday). This is an old tradition we learned in Sweden. Our kids found it very exciting.
Turn lemons into lemonade. You could say to your kids ‘OH MY GOODNESS your school has closed- what a nightmare’. They will likely feel panic that their world is turned upside down. Or you could say ‘Oh COOL we are going to be doing school at home now. How fun!’ and they will feel excited. Set up a cozy study area and try enjoy the temporary home-schooling. Our family did homeschooling for some years and it was a very bonding time – especially our kids as siblings. The bond that was forged then made a permanent impact.
Saturday pancake breakfasts. It is so festive to have a special and slower breakfast on Saturdays! This is how memories are made: through repeated events.
Daily prayer time. As I said above, praying together to God helps us all realise there is someone much bigger than us in the universe – who cares and has things under control. We can all talk to God about anything. Our family has a fat notebook where we write family prayers and record how God answers as time goes on. It is amazing to see how God moves when we ask! We really can put our worries in God’s in-box.
Thankfulness. Conversations and prayers involving giving thanks for all the things we have help kids see how much we do have and how much continues to be the same, virus out there or not. Our family, the dog, the sunshine, the cubby house.
Redecorate a room! It is a great time to repaint and reorganise a room together! Have a redecorating planning meeting!
Activities. Craft, painting, building a cubby, baking. Activated kids are content kids. Stock the cupboard with some supplies and allow just one activity on the go at a time so mess is not overwhelming and each activity feels more special. Limit screen time and see the creativity come out of your kids.
Reading to your child. This is the most soothing past time ever. We used to read to our kids for 10 minutes at bedtime, often their children’s Bible. Sometimes I read to them in afternoons when they homeschooled. We read stories about kids in other countries and eras. Some years ago my husband read The Hobbit to our youngest daughter and it was their thing. They even had insider jokes about being Tookish!
Have your children read to you. My 8 year old wanted us to read together and she was also encouraging me to excercise. So we devised a good plan. I did my stretches on my yoga-mat in her room a few times a week while she read me Clarice Bean series! It was a very bonding time.
Special outings with just one of the kids at a time.
Outings with one child at a time fill a child’s love tank! Take them for a milkshake. Whether they are 5 or 20. Having your Mum or Dad all to yourself for a morning is an exciting luxury for a child!
A picnic is an adventure to a child. For a parent it is a chance to relax and enjoy the view from the blanket. One can picnic at the beach, forest or in the backyard! The best way to ensure they happen is to have a picnic basket set up and ready to go.
Music. Once again I will mention music: calm and happy music can transform a home!
Mums, you are the amazing ingredient in your family that makes a house feel like a home. You can bring calm into the centre of a storm, a laugh into the crisis. You can shelter your kids a little and let them enjoy some more childhood. Don’t forget to practice some self care too, to recharge your own batteries.
Addition 23 March: Here is another EXCELLENT article from the Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org.au/news-and-media/news/talking-to-kids-about-covid-19
Hugs from Siobhan 🌿
The fabulous cattle ‘mama and baby’ photos are from a wonderful farm in Finland run by my husbands cousin. Look up ‘Smedisgarden’ on Instagram. The farm has all kinds of animals and is set up for visitors and especially special needs children.