COVID-19: How to Help Kids Deal With School Closings and Cancelled Plans
Mar 13, 2020
Schools around the country are being closed to try to slow down the spreading of COVID-19, by reducing how often large groups of people are together. At first, this may sound exciting to many children and families, though these closings also present us with lots of challenges. Here are a few tips to handle the next few weeks.
Give Yourself A Minute
You are likely trying to figure out many concerns in your life including childcare, entertainment, finances and work-related needs. Allow yourself time to process with a helpful family member, friend or co-worker to figure out what steps you need to take. Children will notice if we are stressed and upset, so it can help to work through our own emotions when they are not present.
Acknowledge the Disappointment
Many children are going to be missing events they have been looking forward to such as plays, dances, field trips and spring breaks. These events are a big part of kids’ social structure and they may feel angry, worried or sad. Be sure to allow your child to have their natural emotional experience. Try using words that join them in their feelings (e.g., “I’m so sorry this is happening. I’m disappointed I won’t get to hear your choir sing, too”). Sometimes we can try to jump too quickly to feeling better, but it is OK for your child to talk about their reactions. To help them process this by allowing them to have some alone time, write a letter about how they feel, or talk about the things they will miss.
After your child has expressed their struggle, work to help them find their own coping strategies. Ask your child to identify some benefits of staying home or activities they are looking forward to doing. Talking about balance is important: there are things that are frustrating/disappointing and some things that are exciting. You may want to remind your child this is temporary and that soon things will be back to normal. Children may also tell you what helps them cope, such as music, activity or journaling. By being more active and engaged during the day, such as coloring, building things or exercising, there is less time to continue to think about the disappointments.
Making a New Normal
To help move forward, have your children participate in making the “new normal” for the next few weeks. Sit down together and make a new structure for home-based days. This can be setting mealtimes, schoolwork time and different fun activities and crafts for morning and afternoon. Children also do well with making days different such as having Monday is pasta night, Tuesday is movie night, Wednesday is sports day that can be consistent throughout the weeks you are home.
Dr. Nicole Dempster is a licensed pediatric psychologist at Nationwide Children's Hospital and is an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University. Dr. Dempster specializes in helping children and their families cope with chronic illness. She obtained her PhD from Kent State University.
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