Children are innately social. They look to their peers and families for many things: social norms, how to regulate their feelings, how to ask questions and explore the world around them, and how to deal with stressful events. During a pandemic, children will look to their immediate caregivers with a stronger sense of urgency. Not only can they sense the tension and change in their environments, but they are also dealing with a sudden loss of role models and peer community. Please find a few ways in which you can support your young child(ren) during this time:
- As caregivers, one of the most important things we can provide our children with is a responsive and empathetic presence. A rooted, positive response from caregivers can work to buffer some of the traumatic stress a child feels during the pandemic. By reassuring them and providing them with a routine you can help to stabilize their mood. By modeling emotional regulation (keeping track of your own stress, validating it, and dealing with it), you can also help your children learn to regulate their own difficult feelings.
- Another important way to buffer the trauma of the pandemic is to empower your children by focusing on the positive and the ways they can take an active role in improving their lives and the lives of others. Talk with them in an age appropriate manner. Tell them to think of three good things about their lives and list them out loud. Did they have a yummy breakfast? Do they get to watch a little more of their favorite show? Do they get to spend more time with mom or dad or another caregiver? Talk about these things! Give them emphasis.
- Encourage children to keep busy by engaging in helping behaviors, both for themselves and others. If you have an older child, see if you can sew masks together. Sign them up to be a mail or email buddy with a senior. For your youngest children, assign them a helpful household task, like cleaning the kitchen counter. By giving them responsibility, they are taking part in keeping you and the entire family safe. It may give them a sense of purpose and make them feel valued and important.
A solid foundation for social emotional health is important for all children. While times are trying and everyone is dealing with new responsibilities, situations, and social norms, there is still much room for positive growth. Children are resistant. By modeling positive behaviors, being affectionate, expressing interest in their activities, and pride in their accomplishments, caregivers can create opportunities for social emotional health in their children, even during the most challenging of times.