By Aimee Langkilde (Intern Community-based Counselling Psychologist)
In my work with children and especially now during this time of COVID-19, feelings and experiences tend to be different for everyone. We’re not in the same boat but we’re going through the same storm as this pandemic ignites collective vulnerability. Having to stay at home during this period has provided children with a safe space to limit their exposure to the virus. However, children have started to return to school and this raises a lot of anxiety not only for children but for their parents too.
For children who are returning to school, some look forward to seeing their friends, teachers and continuing to learn in the more structured learning environment that they were used to. Some children are experiencing increasing levels of anxiety as they worry about the health of their family members and their own health when having to return to school. In turn, the parents of these children are experiencing anxiety too as they contemplate on whether to return their children to school. We must acknowledge our privilege during this time too as some parents are able to keep their children at home for a while longer as they can work from home, while others have to send their children back to school they don’t have an alternative option. These parents must exit the safety of their homes and go to work, which means who facilitates learning for children during this time.
Anxiety during this time is a normal feeling for each person, it’s a fear response about something that may or may not occur in the future and it’s our bodies’ way of telling us when something is wrong, even if it may not be perceived to be wrong by others. All feelings are important and should be acknowledged and handled gently in a safe environment.
When children are anxious, we may expect to see them displaying worry, sadness, fear or nervousness but we may see them displaying defiance, anger, irritability or having difficulty sleeping. Its important to remember that children may display emotions or behaviours that are different to us.
It’s important to be cognisant and responsive towards our children’s anxiety even if we ourselves are not feeling anxious. We need to be able to contain and regulate our own emotions and reflect this back to our children in a way that makes them feel safe within our relationship with them, especially during this time. This relationship and the security provided through it, provides an opportunity to protect our children from trauma. So how do we help children learn through the chaos?
Tips for containing kids while they learn through the chaos
Let children talk about their worries or disappointment about returning or not returning to school.
Make sure to discuss their feelings in a safe place.
Remind children to be gentle with themselves and others, we’re all doing the best we can.
Assess your own healthy behaviours and share your own coping skills with your children.
We must remember we are a model of how children react to situations and cope with their emotions.
A parent cannot hold and help the child process their anxiety if the parent is anxious too.
Remind children to focus on the things that they can control such as their thoughts and behaviours.
Ask children to speak about something good that happened throughout their day whether they are learning at school or at home.
We need to continue to try and function during this time, even if some days or most days we feel like we can’t, and we must guide and assist our children to find hope while learning through the chaos.
No one is coping perfectly but we are all going through this together; we all hold both strength and struggle. Perhaps we can give ourselves a little reminder that we may still grow during this difficult time no matter what we fear. And let’s hold on to hope that we will get through this.