Kate, child life specialist at McMaster Children’s Hospital
Children look to their parents, or the adults in their lives, for guidance and support, especially during difficult times.
Children watch adults
Children are quite observant – they watch our behaviours and how we respond in different situations. We should try to model the behaviour we wish to see in our children.
For example, we can’t expect children to practice safe hand hygiene and physical distancing if we don’t do the same.
Praise your child for washing their hands before they eat or for maintaining physical distance on walks.
Try to use a calm and centred approach with your children. We know that if parents respond in an anxious manner, children are more likely to do the same.
With that being said, it’s also okay if your child sees you sad or knows that you’re missing family members and friends, as this lets them know that it’s okay for them to express their feelings as well.
Children express loss in many ways
During this time we are experiencing large amounts of change, stemming from the cancellation of school, sports, and social activities. For everyone, this can be experienced as a form of loss, and for children, can manifest itself in sadness, irritability and aggression to name a few.
Try to develop a new routine with your children. For example, wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, do school work, go play, eat lunch, go for a walk, enjoy free time, eat dinner, take a bath, and go to bed. Maintaining a routine will give your child a sense of normalcy, help them feel safe, and allow them to know what comes next.
Respond with patience and consistency
Despite our best efforts, we should still anticipate an increase in certain behaviours, such as tantrums, siblings fighting, and difficulty falling asleep. This is a result of different routines, spending a lot of time together, and likely, children not being as physically and mentally active during the day.
Try to prevent these situations when possible, but if they do arise, respond with patience and consistency. Give your child plenty of time to adjust and validate their feelings of anger, fear, or frustration.
Look after yourself
Finally, try to look after yourself. Parents also experience fear and anxiety during difficult times. In order to care for children, you must care for yourself too. This might mean going outside once a day, exercising, finding a form of art to engage with, or calling a loved one or friend.
We hope these videos better equip you to support your children during these challenging times.