WORDS BY SAOIRSE HANNIGAN OF MINDME.IE, IRELAND'S LARGEST CHILDCARE WEBSITEBack to Top
COVID 19 has taken over the news and our lives. Much of the economy is shut down, and that means thousands of kids are out of school while thousands of parents are struggling to figure out what to do next. If the COVID-19 outbreak is making you want to hide in a closet and cry for an hour where your kids can't see you, you are not alone.
There are still a lot of unknowns regarding this dreadful virus, which can lead to catastrophic thinking. People fear the unknown, fear getting ill or even dying. These fears are primal and often come up when perceived threats occur. Now add in the stress of having to become a home-schooling parent, scrambling for childcare, trying to work from home, and you have the recipe for a parental meltdown.
So how do parents manage their anxiety in these challenging times? How do we keep it from seeping out and affecting our kids? Take a few deep breaths. You can do this and here's how.
1. Be gentle with yourself
While we wash our hands and cough into tissues, there are a lot of unanswered questions about this virus right now.
"I have a lot on my mind ... wondering about our future," says Margaret Kilgarrif, a mom of three. "How hard will our family be hit? How can the economy take this? Will the kids go back to school this year?" Like many parents, Margaret describes herself as "on the edge”.
Having a raised state of anxiety is very normal right now. Our routine and sense of safety and security are tied to life being predictable. We're walking around with this fear and this can cause anxiety.
2. Do talk to your kidsBack to Top
It can be tempting to keep kids in the dark, but children notice the disruption to their routine. Creches and schools are closed. More parents are working from home or confined to home. The kids know something is up. Kids can also read parents' moods and are good at absorbing their parents' emotional energy but not very good at interpreting it. So, while kids see that their parents are stressed, they're left to guess at what's going on, and sometimes they can turn that inward, thinking "Mummy must be upset because I made a mess" or "Daddy is mad at me".
Conversations with kids should be calm and appropriate for their age. You can explain that there's a virus going around, it's like a cold and can cause people to cough and sneeze and that it's very important to wash our hands and cough into your elbow. This way we stop the virus from spreading.
Don't provide too much information so as not overwhelm them. Stick with answering what they want to know. If they ask why they still can't go to school or can't see Nana, explain that kids who get COVID-19 have only mild symptoms, but sometimes older adults can have a harder time with the virus and you want to keep everyone safe. The goal should be to give them facts without the fear.
3. Don't talk about COVID-19 in front of the childrenBack to Top
Isn't this the opposite of what I just said? Well No! There's a difference between talking to your kids about COVID 19 and talking about it in front of them. Children look to us to set the tone for how they should feel about things. They want to know somebody is in charge and somebody is taking care of everything.
Role-modelling calm behaviour is important, and anxious conversations about the lack of hand sanitizer at your supermarket or the latest person in your town to catch the virus can set a tone of fear. It's good to get these conversations out in the open so you don't bottle up your anxiety, but they should be done with other adults, out of earshot and eyesight of the little ones.
4. Establish a routineBack to Top
For kids who are used to a routine, being home with long periods to fill can be a jolt to the system. Don't treat this time away from school as some sort of holiday. Having a routine creates a sense of stability, but it doesn't have to mean schoolwork all day long. The schedule can include a mix of both schooling as well as play. Try to find a balance that fits your child's needs.
Siobhan Bolger, a mum of twins, says she's sticking to a schedule but letting her kids influence what it to looks like. That way they feel a sense of control in their upturned world. Now is a good time to reinforce health too, whether it's making handwashing before every meal a family activity or taking time to clean around the house as a family.
5. Be positiveBack to Top
There's plenty to be worried about, but sometimes a little refocusing can help. For Margaret, that meant focusing on her children and the extra time with them. "We don't have to rush to get ready for school or the numerous sports activities the kids are involved in," she says. We can just take it one day at a time."
Margaret says she's also getting her kids to focus on the positives. "I keep talking to the children about silver linings, and that's how I feel right now," she says. "My husband is a teacher. I'm a full-time Mum. Our kids are sports mad. Life was so busy. This has forced us to slow down."
6. Remember you will get through thisBack to Top
The experts say there's something good about kids having their lives interrupted: They're developing the coping skills to deal with it. This world trauma is going to affect our kids, but it also has the potential to help them navigate future hardships. We do not promise our kids a perfect life, however, we do try to give them the tools they will need in the real world. Going through this as a family will go a long way to providing the kids with a foundation for all the tough times they may face in future years.
7. Don't forget to take time for yourselfBack to Top
Still, feel like hiding in that closet? That's OK! Some parents sneak off for five minutes to sit in the bathroom just to reset the Mum button. Take a few deep breaths, and if you feel like you need help, don't be afraid to ask for it. There are many mental health providers offering telehealth or video sessions now. If you feel the need, make the call!