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How to support children while social distancing
Are you struggling to understand how to support children’s mental health?
To be honest, it can be challenging. I understand. I am a Nana of a 7-year-old and thought it was going to be simple. Balancing working from home while entertaining an energetic child is not an easy task.
They are used to attending school, having a structured and consistent routine, socializing with friends, using their imaginations, and just plain old keeping busy. They are easily distracted when they are in their own environment; it is probably much more laid back than it is in school. Not only that but it must be pretty awesome to be home with mom and dad (or, in my case, Nana).
Children are resilient but whenever there are major changes, it may take some time for them to adjust. During the adjustment period, they may feel anxious and stressed and begin exhibiting some behavioral problems.
- Difficulties sleeping or sleeping too much
- Inability to concentrate
- Arguing and fighting more frequently with siblings
- Easily angered
- Push boundaries
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger”Proverbs 15:1, NKJV
Children are little ones and not all of them have the ability to comprehend social distancing. Speak calmly at their level. We are bigger and taller and can look like scary giants talking down to their giant worries and problems. Children are going to test your patience, probably even more so while social distancing. However, changing the way you communicate can help everyone and it becomes easier when you begin to see positive outcomes.
Tips for improving communication with children with anxiety
- Try not to yell. Sit down and ask them to have a conversation with you and ask them if they are feeling angry. If so, let them share with you what they are angry about. They may just be acting out because they are bored, stressed, or something bothering them
- Validate their feelings (but without condoning the behavior). For example: “I understand you are feeling angry. It is okay to feel angry. But it is not okay to use words that hurt or do things that will hurt someone else
- Make suggestions for correcting their behaviors. For example: “if you are feeling angry, say you are angry instead of yelling. “
- Stay calm, use eye contact and speak at eye level.
During stressful times communication is important when supporting children while social distancing. Oftentimes what we see on the outside is an indicator that something doesn’t feel so good on the inside.
Establish a structured and consistent routine
“I have your hand. Fear not. ‘For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, Saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you. ‘ “Isisah 41:13, NKJV
Children thrive when there are consistency and structure and when their schedules are disrupted, so are their feelings. They may be feeling anxious and younger children have not yet developed the ability to self regulate during stressful situations. Maintaining a routine during social distancing is one of the best ways to help alleviate a child’s stress. When routines are consistent, children know what to expect which reduces some of their worries. Children are resilient and adapt to change much better than we think they might.
Tips for homeschooling children during social distancing:
- Write out a “school” schedule. Having a visual to follow and reviewing it every morning can help them get adjusted to their “new normal.”
- Be creative with activities! For example, for gym class do aerobics or dance to videos, for science class do an experiment, or for music class sing a song from class using youtube to provide the music
- Set a timer for each “class.” Using a timer can mimic the bells or buzzers used at school to alert them it is time for a new class or activity
- Give them recess. Use this time to go outside and get some fresh air and get out some of their anxious energy
- Have an adult play the role of the principal to address behavior problems during the “school” day
Be honest about what is happening
One thing that is very helpful is to be direct, honest, and simple. While it is not important to know all of the gory details, keeping children informed is important. Not only can it alleviate some worries, it also helps them learn about the world around them.
Stay in Touch With Friends and Family
“Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.”Ecclesiastes, 4:11-12
While they may not be able to go outside and play with their friends during social distancing, there are platforms available for children to stay connected with their friends and family. If you do not normally allow your children to use social media, I encourage you to stretch the rules this time.
I have found that even for me as an adult, keeping in touch using Facetime, Skype, or Zoom helps feeling connected with the outside world. I spoke to an old friend today via Facetime and I kind of forgot that I was stuck in the house. I have to believe that this works the same way with our kids. That social time is so important. Scheduling virtual play dates, reading stories, or playing games with friends are still possible and I encourage this.
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”3 John 1:2
Exercise, exercise, exercise! Not only does exercise have great health benefits, it will release bottled up energy, anxiety, and stress. These could be incorporated into their daily school schedules or just for fun. The coronavirus occurred just as winter is ending and spring is beginning which is such a blessing. It makes getting outside to exercise during social distancing easier for children.
Some ideas for exercising include:
- Riding bikes or scooters
- Going for walks
- Walking the animals
- Playing freeze tag (there is no touching)
- Playing hopscotch
- Dancing to music outside
- Dancing to videos
- Having races outside
- Jump rope
- If it is raining or cold outside, or being outside is not an option, YouTube (with some supervision) offers many children’s instructional activities. Any kind of movement is beneficial.
Use Screen Time for Rewards and Consequences
“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor detest His correction; 12 For whom the Lord loves He corrects,Proverbs 3:11-12
Just as a father the son in whom he delights.”
Nowadays with technology, it is tempting to allow children more screen time when they are bored or to pacify them so you can be more productive working from home. Children love their screen time and electronics. Therefore it is a good motivator for them to earn this as a reward for good behavior. Taking it away for defiant, disrespectful, or disruptive behavior teaches them to be accountable for their actions. Most types of rewards and consequences help manage children’s behaviors.
However, expect there to be some backlash and temper tantrums. They will lose their minds when they lose their screen time. If this happens, remember some of the communication tips.
Also, remember they are not throwing tantrums because they are angry with you. They are throwing tantrums because they did not get their own way.
They will be okay. I promise. There are always timeouts at your fingertips !
Use Social Distancing to Ignite Imagination
I encourage limiting screen time. It is very easy to get wrapped up in technology. When most of us were kids we had to find things to do and we pulled ourselves out of it without being dependent upon technology to do it for us.
Social distancing can ignite children’s imaginations if they are put in a position to do so. Find some things around the house and put them in a box and let their imaginations run wild. They may end up having so much fun that they forget all about that screen time.
Take Care of Yourself
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”John 14:27, NKJV
I have a saying I often use with my families that I will share with you, because it is true: healthy parents, healthy kids.
During these difficult times right now, it is important for you to take care of yourself. Social distancing at some point in time will end. However, the aftermath, in my professional opinion, is another story.
Social distancing can lead to cabin fever and be unpleasant. It can lead to feeling isolated, irritability, depression, and anxiety. To be healthy for your children, you must first take care of yourself. You may feel like you are being selfish by thinking of yourself, but that is not the case. You must feel your best to be your best for your children.
Parenting Self Care Tips While Social Distancing
- Begin your day with meditation. Some examples are: reading the Bible, yoga, listening to a podcast, listening to music, or journaling
- Set aside a block to time each day for yourself even if it is only 30 minutes. Setting small goals while social distancing is still possible.
- Speak positive things for your life throughout the day. Sometimes what we think means more when we say it out loud. If you wake up telling yourself you want to have a good day, speak it throughout the day. “I will” statements” and positive affirmations are all very helpful in keeping a positive mindset. They are also effective ways to help manage depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
- Limit exposure to the news and other media about the coronavirus. I have learned that even for myself, I have had to limit this. Although it is wonderful to have the media to tell us what is going on around us, much of it is negative and makes it difficult to focus on positive things. Stay informed but not to the excess that it consumes all of your thoughts.
Social distancing presents many challenges for you and your children. But, by adjusting and improvising a few things, it does not have to be so bad. Be patient, maintain a routine, get some exercise and fresh air, stay in touch with friends and family, and take care of you. There is hope. You’ve got this !