What parents can do to support their children at home and during confinement

Date: 26/03/2020

Author: We Are Stronger Charity Psychologist


Dealing with anxiety and fear.

One important aspect to keep in mind is that children are very sensitive to parental anxiety. For them to be calm and feel safe, parents should try to remain calm as well. When at home with your children, if you feel too anxious, take turns with your partner and take a break if possible. Listen to some music, do a short relaxation, a mindfulness exercise or some physical exercises, or just rest in a calm place. It is okay to explain to them, that you also are afraid and that we are all working together as a society to overcome this situation. Teach them that you might need some quiet time at moments during the day. Provide children with opportunities to draw or write to express their feelings. Let them talk about feelings without interrupting or interpreting and reassure them about your love for them. Remind to them, that there will be and end and that we will have a normal life again.

Avoid exposing young children to the news, as well as to the media as much as possible. When discussing about the virus, ask them what they know first in order to correct wrong information that they must have. Explain the situation in simple words, without using too many details.

For older children, be flexible in the use of screens during free time, as it will be there way to relate to others and socialize. Organise skype conversations with friends from time to time, so they can feel connected.

Dealing with anger

It is normal to feel angry especially when times are difficult. It is important, however, to make sure that we do not hurt anyone else, while being angry or frustrated, especially if we can not easily go out of the house!

Teach children how to deal with anger (teach this before, when they are no angry).

Ask the child to count backwards and go to a quiet place until he/she feels better and can speak. Help your child decrease his breathing rhythm slowly or for active ones, to kick a pillow or cushion. Bathtubs and playing with water, can be very relaxing as well.

Consider every day like a new day, without reminding the child what he did wrong before.

Daily routine with flexibility

There is no need for children to wake up super early as days are long, so be flexible about starting the academic work, a little later than usual. It is important to structure the day and to keep a routine, between time to exercise, time to learn something new, times to spent as a family, and lots of times to play. Parents and children get dressed every day, so children feel that parents are in control of the situation.

Especially for the first days, be flexible about schoolwork. They will need an adjustment time, and breaks.  Lower the pressure for children and for yourself. If children have difficulty concentrating, start the homework session by 5-10 minutes of simple stretching, and provide a short break in the middle of the session if needed. Another possibility is to change activities often, to keep the interest in the subject. Teach the important notions when you feel that they are most receptive.

It might be nice to work on one concept during a week or a day, with the help of short explanations, stories, drawings and anything that can help children understand them and practice. Possible ideas of concepts to work on, one at a time: patience, cooperation, empathy, tolerance, solidarity, community, respect. Talk about positive thoughts and give examples of positive thoughts.

Giving instructions

When giving an instruction, describe exactly what you will like them to do in short simple sentences, instead of telling the child what he/she should not do. Keeping a calm, but firm tone of voice, works better than screaming or getting angry. Emotional responses decrease compliance and make the situation worse.

Avoid abstract sentences such as "calm down" or "behave", but instead use the child's name and describe what you need or want them to do. For example "Peter, I need you to pick up a book and read for five minutes", or "Sophie please lower your voice and walk slowly", or "Thomas please use a nice voice when speaking to your brother", or "Lisa please stop moving around, sit in a calm place and start breathing slowly and counting until ..."

Do not repeat instructions often (unless your son/daughter has attention problems), as you will lose in efficacy and they might stop listen to you. If it does not work, try giving points for good behaviour that can be exchanged for time to play video games or to play, or to do less chores for a day.

Use time-out sparingly in a "boring" place of the house (one minute per year of age of the child, no toys around), if really needed, but be flexible, car these are difficult times for your children as well.

A few ideas to explore during free time

Example of memory game:

 Each person says "Inside Ant Sophy's chest there were.  and each person must repeat  what has been said by the previous person and add a new word. For example," inside Ant Sophy's chest there was a pair of green socks, and the next person will say "inside Ant Sophy's chest there was a pair of green socks and a clown etc, until someone can not remember one of the words and loses.

Another version can be played with objects. Each person brings small/medium size objects. An object is placed in the bag. Children name every object that is already in the bag. When they can not remember anymore, the game stops and starts again.

Guessing game:

One person thinks of an animal and can only answering by yes or no, and the players ask questions to guess what it is.

Using only objects or clothes found in the house, or in the room.

For example, one person looks in the room and says, "I see, I see something blue, or names an object" and the one who finds it first wins.

If you live in a small place, building one little refuge can help the child isolate there when he/she is in need, and read a book or play with his favourite toy.

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