With COVID-19 dominating our news sites, social media and many of our conversations, it is normal for you and your kids to be feeling stressed, anxious and frustrated. And we all know that there may be other stresses in your life – with your health, finances or relationships – adding extra layers of uncertainty and worry.
With all of this in mind we asked Dr Lucy Braude and Dr Katharine Hodgkinson from Headway Health to share their top tips on how you can take care of your family and kids during COVID-19, while also taking care of yourself.
This is a time to rethink and check in on your strategy for taking care of yourself and your family. Many of us will be thinking about how to help our kids, and the clichés are true – we need something in our tank to be able to do this.
So we are sharing some thoughts on helping our families that we hope will validate what you are already doing and maybe add some new ideas, with a gentle reminder to think about your own care, and some additional ideas for great resources you can access.
How to talk to your kids about COVID-19
- Depending on their age, your kids are no doubt hearing and seeing lots of information about coronavirus on TV, radio and posters. Bringing up the topic yourself ensures that your children have correct information at a level that suits them – each child is so very different depending upon their age and demeanour, so gently seek to understand what they want to know.
- Listen for opportunities to talk – when everyone is calm, alert and able to focus.
- Start by checking what your child knows so you can pitch information appropriately; a simple opening question: “Everyone is talking about this coronavirus, what have you heard?” to gauge their understanding. Focus really hard on listening – we don’t need all the answers – we can let them know we will try and find out and talk again.
- Keep it simple for littlies: “There are some germs going around at the moment so we are all going to try and stay at home to help stop them spreading”. Older kids can handle more detail and facts – but stay calm and positively encourage children to do what they can to stay healthy, for example, with hand hygiene.
- Limit the COVID-19 talk around the home and try to get your information from trusted sources such as The Australian Government Department of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A range of emotions are normal!
- Let your child know that worries are very normal and okay at this time, all kids are different and different kids may struggle with different aspects – missing friends, sport – even school!
- Ask your kids how they are feeling, they may not be able to say, but you can share examples like: “your cousins are missing school, how is it for you?”
- Listen carefully to their questions and try to respond honestly. For example, if your child asks if lots of people are dying from the virus, you could say: “yes, it is true that some people will die, but doctors and medicines are able to save most people”.
- Some children are naturally more anxious and sensitive than others. Think about how they have responded to other stressful situations (e.g. changing schools, unwell family members) to give you ideas of what behaviour to look out for and to know what may help.
- Identify examples of resilience you may see, and really reinforce flexible thinking or their ability to deal with big emotions. Role model and share ideas about how you cope.
- These are tough times, and while very challenging it is also a time to recognise what each of you are doing well and to acknowledge when you are all doing well as a family – humour, creating new fun family rituals, and recognising and celebrating resilience in each other will boost your team spirit.
Create a sense of calm and safety at home to promote a gentle adjustment for your family
- Try to keep home safe and normal – keep routines the same, as much as possible and plan activities ahead of time to reduce uncertainty.
- Maintain the same expectations in terms of bedtime, chores and meals. Exercise and get fresh air together each day. Notice the joys and savour and celebrate these – chocolate in the home delivery!
- Get creative when making a schedule – what activities have you always hoped to do but haven’t had the time? Could you make up a game, a competition or teach yourselves a new skill via YouTube?
- Try to model good communication balanced with some flexibility and compassion for each other – this is a new and tricky situation for everyone and involves a lot of new learning.
- Please do though, let go of unnecessary expectations you have for yourself as a parent and partner right now – we are all doing our best – some days will work better than others and it’s okay to be imperfect!
Managing your own stress
- It’s impossible to hold others up when we feel like crumbling – so looking after yourself should go at the top of this list not the bottom! It doesn’t have to be fancy – a phone call with a friend, a peaceful shower or escaping into a book may just allow us to keep going. Having your own routine may also help – exercise, sleep, meals, and watching out for your own use of social media, late nights and use of alcohol or other less healthy ways of coping. We are all doing the very best we can – so forget the comparisons please.
- If you are often the person who drops everything to listen and support others, consider adopting some healthy boundaries for now and think about how and when you can help.
- Taking care of ourselves and our own anxiety is important – kids pick up a lot that is not said. It may be a time for you to talk to someone, especially if there are other concerns in your life or you don’t feel you have the support that you need, or are worried about your own emotional well-being.
There’s lots of great help out there – we don’t need to work it all out from scratch so please reach out early.
There are many free helplines you can call:
Parent Line 1300 30 1300
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Life line 13 11 14
Beyondblue has trained mental health staff to support you through a webchat service and phone line 1300 22 4636
While you may not have thought about talking to someone outside of the family, Psychologists offer evidence-based intervention to help with a range of concerns including anxiety, low mood and living with uncertainty. Most services now offer telehealth appointments through video call and you can ask your GP if you are eligible for a Medicare rebate.
This article was written by Dr Lucy Braude and Dr Katharine Hodgkinson from Headway Health.