As a parent, what is my role, and what can I do to best support my child’s education?
Page 7: How Can I Support My Child Socially and Emotionally?
You’re probably sick of hearing the term “the new normal.” It’s no longer new, and it’s certainly not normal. It’s been confusing, tiring, and stressful. You might be juggling being a parent, supporting your child’s learning, and working from home. At the same time, you might be worried about the loss of a job, your finances, or the health of your loved ones.
You’ve been coping with this for months and months. At a time when you most need the social support of extended family and friends, you have to keep a safe physical distance. Plus, the ever-changing news about the pandemic can add to our anxiety and worry.
We also need to remember that our children’s lives have changed as well. They were used to a structured school day that included lessons, exercise, fun activities, and time with friends. Then everything changed and their days became much less structured.
However, there is good news! There are things you can do to help your child (and yourself) during this time. Let’s take a quick look at each of them.
- Reduce your child’s stress
- Help your child stay connected to friends and family
- Encourage your child to be active and have fun
For more information on each of these, keep reading.
Keep in Mind
Your child watches how you respond to situations. The more anxious you are, the more likely your child will be anxious, too. During this time, try to remain positive and practice good habits, such as connecting with others, taking time to have fun, and getting enough sleep.
Reduce Your Child’s Stress
This is a stressful time for many children. They are adjusting to a new schedule, trying to learn new things, and might not have seen extended family and friends for months. Also, they may be worried that they will catch COVID-19, or expose a family member to the virus. Kids don’t show stress the same way as adults.
So how can you tell that your child is stressed? Clues include changes, such as:
- Being irritable or clingy
- Falling back into old behaviors (sucking thumb, bedwetting)
- New eating or sleeping habits
- Arguing or fighting more with parents and siblings
- Not being able to concentrate on school work
All children are different, and the way they react to stress is different. How they react might depend on things like their age or personality. For some children with disabilities, the changes in routine can create stress. Keep these things in mind as you help your child through this, and make sure you address his or her individual needs.
Below are some common concerns that children might have. Click on each for tips on how to address them.
Although their concerns are real, some of the information children may be hearing right now about the virus could be based on inaccurate or greatly exaggerated information from friends or unreliable sources.
Talk to your child. When talking with your child about COVID-19, make sure you are calm and provide information from reliable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control or your state health department. Also, make sure to:
- Provide age-appropriate information. Click on the links below for fact sheets for talking to your child about COVID-19.
- Don’t offer unnecessary details.
- Explain how to stay safe.
- Correct inaccurate information.
- Talk to your child about his feelings and let him know it is alright to have them.
- Ask your child whether she has questions or concerns and be sure to address them.
- Check back frequently to see if they have questions or concerns.
Limit exposure to news. Much of the information about COVID-19 on television, the Internet, or social media is meant for adults. Hearing or seeing this information can increase a child’s fears and anxiety.
Talk and listen. Talk to your child frequently about any feelings or thoughts that she might have. And be available to listen and take any concerns seriously
Monitor your child’s mental health. If your child shows unusual symptoms for more than 2 weeks or if he has severe anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts or behaviors, call a professional. For more information on children’s common reactions to stressful events and how to help them cope, see Helping Children Cope with Emergencies.
Encourage healthy habits. Make sure that during this stressful time, your child:
- Has a daily routine (such as getting dressed, going to bed at a regular time)
- Gets enough sleep
- Eats healthy meals
- Exercises or does some type of physical activity
- Limits screen time
- Stays connected to family and friends
- Continues to do fun things
Help Your Child Stay Connected to Friends and Family
For Your Information
When your kids are online—no matter their age—it’s important to monitor them.
Know who your child is talking to. At this time, a lot of children are using social media to stay connected. Because of this, children may be targets of cyber predators.
Check for inappropriate online behavior.
- Cyber bullying — Make sure your child isn’t being bullied or isn’t bullying others.
- Inappropriate and vulgar behavior in school chat rooms — This may be especially true for older kids.
For information on how to talk to your kids about online safety and responsibility, read 4 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Good Online Behavior.
Although we are all encouraged to avoid contact with others, children still need some way to connect with friends and family. Why is this important? Children who stay socially connected are happier and have more fun. They are also less lonely, worried, and depressed.
This connection can start with you. By taking just 5 to 20 minutes out of each day to give your child your undivided attention, he will feel important, loved, and secure. Your child can also connect with family and friends by:
- Video chats
- Writing letters
If your child is feeling lonely or missing friends and family, here are a few things you can do.
Spend a few minutes of quality-time with your child. This can be anything that works for you and your child, such as chatting during breakfast, checking in between phone calls, or catching up at the end of the day. The important thing is to show them that you care, so be available and listen.
Allow your child to connect with family and friends. If you have a young child, you may need to supervise calls and video chats. For older children, you may need to establish some rules, set times, and time limits for chatting so that they can complete school work. Read Social Interaction While Social Distancing for ideas about ways to connect with others.
Encourage your child to help others. Depending on the age of your child, this could be as simple as writing a thank-you note to a healthcare worker or calling an older relative who is living alone. It could also include sewing masks for healthcare workers or pulling weeds for an elderly neighbor.
Encourage Your Child To Be Active and Have Fun
Not all activities have to be educational or meaningful. Some activities can just be silly or fun. Staying active and taking time to have fun can help reduce stress. When your child is less stressed, she will be calmer, get better sleep, and feel better overall.
Schedule time for physical activity. Even though he may spend part of the day working on school assignments or chores, your child should be physically active. Being physically active is a great way for your child to reduce stress and to stay healthy. For some, this might include taking a walk or riding a bike. For others, it might include indoor activities like dancing, working out to a video, or doing yoga.
Just 30–60 minutes of exercise a day can help your child stay healthy. That may seem like a lot, but it doesn’t have to be all at one time. Think about breaking it into chunks throughout the day, maybe 10–15 minutes at a time. For an example of how to add physical activity into your child’s schedule, see Page 3.
Plan time for fun. Your child also needs time to have fun and let off steam. For some kids, this could be physical activity. For others, it might mean playing video games, reading a book, or watching a favorite TV show. Be careful, though: Although activities like watching TV, playing games on a device, or chatting with friends or even reading or playing a board game can provide a nice break, too much inactivity can lead to weight gain and poor health.
Get outside. Fresh air and sunshine can make a stressful day much better. We realize it’s not always possible, but children should get outside when they can. If they do, make sure they follow all current health and safety guidelines.
If you live in an area near lots of other families with children, remind your child about social distancing. When children are together, it is natural that they will want to play together.
Wide Open School is a free collection of online learning opportunities. It includes everything from schedules to reading and writing to arts and music. Click on each link below for fun ideas for getting your child to move:
9 Indoor Activities for Hyperactive Kids. This article from Understood offers nine indoor activities that can keep your child active.
Distance Learning is Emotional Work: Tips for Parents and Caregivers. This article is part of the Distance Learning Series published by the TIES Center. The series focuses on supporting all learners, including those with significant cognitive disabilities.