Dr Vanessa von Auer, Clinical Psychologist and Founding Principal of Integrated International School (IIS), has some advice for parents who have children with anxiety (actually, for anyone with kids!) to help navigate them through these tough times.
How should we talk to children about COVID-19?
It’s natural that we’re all experiencing a mixed bag of emotions at this time. There’s anxiety about getting sick and our job security, and fears that our safety and freedom could be taken from us. There are frustrations and boredom from having to stay at home. There’s also a sadness about not being able to spend time with friends and family outside of our household.
Our children are little sponges and they will soak up their parents’ emotions. Above all, they’ll remember how we reacted to this historic point in time. So, it’s important to talk to our children without panic and to provide a factual and age-appropriate narrative of COVID-19 and the implemented Circuit Breaker safeguards, such as staying at home and physical distancing. Here are some tips on how to do this:
- Use a calm and reassuring tone to explain that the ‘world has caught a cold’ from a virus called COVID-19. Explain that to stay safe and healthy, Singapore has closed most schools, shops and businesses temporarily.
- Use imagery (such as ebooks and videos) as a resource to explain this.
- For younger children, try watching Time to Come In, Bear: A Children’s Story About Social Distancing by Kim St Lawrence.
- A good resource for older children is Global COVID-19 Prevention by Stanford Medicine.
How can we reassure anxious children about what’s happening in the world right now?
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings, allow them to express them and empathise with them.
- Help them process their feelings by inviting them to ask questions and let them talk it out.
- Focus on the positives and the possibilities instead of the losses. For younger children who always want more time and attention from their parents, they can have that now. For older children who have more independent and varied interests, they can explore and pursue new skills online. (But only after their home-based learning is complete for the day!)
- Maintain a sense of routine by implementing a daily schedule, just like our kids would have if they were still going to school.
- Give them a sense of control by emphasising simple things that they can do as “germ-fighting superheroes”, such as keeping up a healthy hygiene routine by washing their hands regularly or wearing a mask.
- Normalise this new state of living by scheduling group video calls with friends and family members to show our kids that everyone is in the same situation.
- Remind them that by everyone pitching in during this Circuit Breaker period and this way of living will be temporary.
- Teach kids relaxation methods such as deep breathing or mindfulness exercises, or start them on daily kids’ yoga.
Do you have any advice on managing home-based learning?
It’s best to keep a structured routine, even with home-based learning – it creates a sense of stability. If your child’s school hasn’t provided a daily schedule, create one that works for your family. Sticking to a routine will help keep your children focused and give them a sense of purpose every day. This will help to relieve boredom and irritability.
Decide on a study space together – a place where your child feels comfortable and able to focus on home-based learning tasks. For younger children, this may mean near mum or dad seated at the dining table. For older children, it means in their own room or somewhere quiet if possible. In households with multiple children, a communal “study table” might do the trick.
Every so often, throw a little fun curveball into the day. For example, during one of their breaks from home-based learning use your kiddo’s fav song to lure them into the living room for a “dance-off” with everyone in the house or invite them into the kitchen to make brownies. These little surprises of fun and quality time with parents will make home-based learning and this lockdown period memorable in a special way!
It’s also important for parents to implement boundaries as many of us need to work. Young children may not understand that having everyone home together does not mean they will get everyone’s attention all of the time. Choose a symbol, gesture or physical space which represents mum or dad’s workspace or work time. For me, my children know that when Mommy puts in her earphone on her computer that it is serious work time and that they cannot disrupt me unless it’s necessary. With older children, you can come up with a hand gesture or create a ‘Work In Progress’ sign.
What online-learning resources are available to IIS students?
Our students’ holistic wellbeing has always been our priority. It’s for this reason that our incredible team of specialists have made adjustments by integrating online platforms to ensure our students and families are still able to receive dedicated one-to-one counselling sessions as well as Naturalistic Applied Behaviour Analysis (NABA) Therapy.
With some people losing jobs or having to relocate at this time, is an ‘honesty is the best policy’ approach helpful?
The aim at the end of the COVID-19 period would be to have raised resilient children who can respond to stress and change in a healthy and even productive manner. As such, it’s important to encourage open yet age-appropriate communication. Answer your child’s questions as honestly as possible without it being scary. Answering our children’s questions helps keep confusion and anxiety at bay.
What are some good resources for parents with anxious kids at home?
Books (many of these can also be listened to on YouTube):
- David and the Worry Beast: Helping Children Cope with Anxiety by Anne Marie Guanci
- Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz
- Don’t Feed The Worry Bug by Andi Green
- The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside
- The Don’t Worry Book by Todd Parr
Yoga and Relaxation:
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