Isolation sucks, but with some expert tips (and advice from astronauts) you can make it more bearable.
We know that lots of people, children included, are experiencing intense feelings of stress and anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – it’s important to remember we’ll get through this together.
Years: R – 12
The importance of calm amid the chaos for children
Elbow bumps in lieu of high-fives, segregated lunchtimes and hyper hand hygiene – they’re are all a part of our children’s new reality in response to Covid-19. But while kids are seemingly adapting well to the changes, University of South Australia child development experts say adults need to be increasingly mindful of their own reactions to the pandemic and take care when explaining the situation to children.
According to early childhood education expert, Associate Professor Victoria Whitington, the way a parent, teacher, or significant adult responds in a crisis can have significant implications for a child.
“Children need calm and stable parents and teachers, especially in uncertain times. There’s no doubt, we’re all feeling a bit unsure at the moment, but panicking and worrying in front of your kids will not improve the situation,” Assoc Prof Whitington says.
“Children take cues from their key attachment figures – their mums, dads, and teachers – so if they hear or see them worrying, they’ll tend to take on this worry too.
“That’s not to say that parents should avoid talking about the current health problem, rather, parents need to be mindful of how they broach the subject. Talking calmly, kindly and patiently with children will help them learn what they need to know in a considered way, without extra angst.
“Parents should also know that it’s okay to keep the information light and age-appropriate. For younger children, songs, games and jokes can work well to teach and remind them of what they can do to stay safe. Similarly, for older children, sitting together to watch an explainer video can also work.
“Also, appropriate to age, parents can talk with their children about the ways that they can work together to support each other, as children want to contribute.
“Having a sense of agency is important to children as well as adults.
“For example, families could talk together about what they might do as a family to support each other, so that children are team members, things such as working out fun activities for their families to do at home, contributing to house cleaning, or reminding the family about handwashing and social distancing when shopping.”
Sudden changes are making children unsettled
Recently, children have been exposed to an unusual amount disruptive changes – chaotic and irrational buying that’s stripped supermarkets of toilet paper, new social distancing measures, and constant reports of illness and death on TV. Add this to the cancellation of or changes at school, mum and dad working from home or not going to work at all, and children are understandably unsettled.
Educational psychology and child protection expert, UniSA’s Dr Lesley-anne Ey, says as the pandemic develops, parents will increasingly be looking for ways to rationalise the state of play to their kids.
“Young children in particular are unlikely to be able to understand what’s going on and how it will affect them, their family and their friends,” Dr Ey says.
“They may be concerned that their loved ones are going to die; that Australia will run out of food; or that they’ll not see their friends again.
“The need for protective practices is very real. But when explaining to kids the importance of more frequent handwashing, avoiding handshakes or high-fives, and not touching their face after touching things in public, parents should be clear that these steps are preventative not doomed steps.
“For parents, the most important thing is to maintain a sense of calm around your kids. Shield them from too much sensationalist TV news but be honest about what’s happening in the world.
“No matter how old they are, all children still need hugs and affection from their parents. Together, these are the keys to making your child feel safe, loved and secure.”
Limit screen time
Leading children’s behavioural health expert, UniSA’s Associate Professor Carol Maher says “while screens are a tempting distraction for children as their parents try to focus on work or other activities, the costs outweigh the benefits.
“There’s no doubt that screens are an easy time-filler for kids, especially when mum or dad are working from home, but it’s critical for parents to understand that excessive recreational screen time is associated with many negative health, mental and behavioural outcomes.
“For school-aged children, no more than two hours of screen time a day recommended. Beyond this, screen time will negatively impact a child’s mood, behaviour and attention span, and, in the longer term, can impact their physical health through higher risks of obesity and poorer cardiometabolic health.
“Maintaining a balanced lifestyle is important for kids’ health and wellbeing. This includes regular physical activity, which has proven mental health benefits in times of stress or uncertainty.
“Importantly, a balanced lifestyle will also keep kids in good physical health, ensuring their immune systems are strong, and making them more resilient if they were to get an infection.
“Given the likely medium-to-long term social distancing recommendations, physical activities could include all sorts of backyard play – cricket, trampolines, building obstacle courses – as well as simply getting out as a family to walk, cycle or run together, or alternatively looking into sports that involve some distance, such a tennis.”
Use screens appropriately
If we do find ourselves in the unprecedented situation where schools have closed and parents are working from home, Assoc Prof Maher says that screen time still has a place, especially if it is used for educational purposes.
“Teachers are already preparing materials for kids to do at home, and many parents will be relieved to know that when computers are used for education purposes, the two-hour daily limit does not apply,” Assoc Prof Maher says.
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“Not all screen time is created equally, so when parents are looking for additional online activities for their kids, some options are more suitable than others. For example, educational video games that help kids practice maths, typing skills and so on, are great, as are STEM-focused YouTube channels that conduct all sorts of experiments and investigations.
“Social media also has a place, especially with teens as it allows them to stay connected with their friends when meeting up in person isn’t possible.
“If we are relegated to a limited home environment, parents can take comfort in the fact that working from home relieves them from commuting, freeing up time and delivering a higher degree of flexibility to rearrange working hours to suit their family’s needs.
“Setting up a new family routine will help clarify children’s expectations of when and how recreational screen time is available. This is certainly a new reality, but parents can make it work by working with their kids, along with some determination and creative planning.”