As families shelter at home, many may experience a disruption of daily routines and feel challenged by a lack of predictability. During this time, children need to feel safe. Dr. Brandy Schumann, clinical associate professor of counseling at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, says kids will be seeking additional reassurance from their caregivers to soothe their perception of chaos. Here are some of Schumann’s tips to help.
- Talk about what is going on. It is important for kids to have developmentally appropriate information about why life has changed so much. This story/ coloring book from LSU is a great bibliotherapy resource. Reading it aloud to your child will help explain things in a developmentally appropriate level.
- Acknowledge feelings. Validating your child’s feelings about changes can enhance connection and ease worries and anxiety. Kids may also be experiencing sadness and disappointment about missing out on extracurricular activities, birthday parties, and playdates. You may experience your child as hypersensitive at this time, seeming to overreact to the small things. Try to respond with patience, understanding the reaction is less about the specific moment and more about a reaction to the state of our environment. Remember, when it seems like your child might need a time out, probably it is a need for a time in with you.
- A 30 second burst of quality attention from you, assuring your child that you are available to them when they need you, is usually all that is needed to help them re-regulate.
- Kids play–it is their natural mode of communication. As things change in their lives and they become more aware of why, you will find that it will emerge in their play. This will help them gain a sense of control over what feels so out of control. For example, at dinner, my 4-7- and 12-year old children were eating flour tortillas and shaping them into medical masks that they laid across their faces. My 7-year-old laughed hysterically and said, “Hey mom, if they do run out of masks, they can just use tortillas!” This is them “playing” out their world just as we adults talk out ours.
- Schedule tech-free time. Tech-free family time can create opportunities for greater connection. Imagine one year from now, what memories to you want your child to have from this time. Use this opportunity together to build your relationship. Many of us are overscheduled. This may be the first time in a while that they and you have “free” time. Get creative. Have fun.
- Allow your kids to use technology to connect with their friends. Social distancing does not have to mean that we can no longer connect with each other. Help your kids brainstorm creative ways to connect with their friends.
- Take care of yourself. It can feel overwhelming as a parent to have to take on the role of teacher as well as continue full-time work. This time will be stressful. It is important for parents to engage in self-care. For example, stick to child bedtime routines to ensure “adult time.”
- Call a counselor. Many are available via telehealth for individual sessions or parent consultation.
Brandy Schumann, Ph.D., specializes in play therapy and serves as a clinical faculty member for SMU Simmon’s Counseling program and the Center for Family Counseling. She co-wrote these tips with SMU counseling alumna, Vivian Murcia,’ 17, M.S.