Stress presents itself in so many forms in our adult life. What more during this unprecedented COVID-19 situation, which has more than changed our routine and lifestyle.
However, do you know kids can also suffer from stress? If us as adults often find stress overwhelming, how may our children feel about it?
Most of us prefer a level of routine in our lives. Some react less positively to change, or need more time to adjust to it. Parents will also relate to the effort put in to instilling a regular schedule for our kids – lights out for bed, waking up for school, homework after a snack back home, naptime, dinner, before-sleep activities, weekends out for the family.
Now that we are unable to accomplish so many of what we have taken for granted, how do we explain to our children why (and for how long)? The way we respond to their questions and signs is also a foundation for them through future change and stress.
Look out for signs of stress
Our kids may not always be able to tell us what they are feeling or thinking. Look for signs, including some that may appear momentarily.
- Differences in eating, sleeping or toilet habits
- Increased frequency of nightmares
- Sudden nail biting, hair pulling, or chewing items such as toys and clothing
- Unusual level of anxiety when separated from parents or caregivers
- Increased tantrums or crying fits
Allow emotions, answer questions and admit what you don’t know
If your kids are not expressive, parents can do your part by gently probing. Ask them how they are feeling, and allow them to talk about the mood they are in. Encourage drawing and writing as alternative outlets for kids to express themselves. Give them quiet time or to play alone.
If your kids are able to express themselves enough to ask questions, don’t dismiss their need to know – try to answer as much as possible, and admit what you don’t know for sure (such as when the Circuit Breaker will end and when they can resume school and play time with their friends).
Simplify the situation for your child
We may be wondering how to explain a difficult situation to children of varying ages – a likely challenge we as parents encounter through their development. Not forgetting, every child’s level of comprehension is different.
Other than choosing words that our children can understand, use stories and cartoons as another channel to talk about what is happening, and what they can do during the situation. Illustrator Axel Scheffler's book is one such material that explains COVID-19 with amazing drawings and simple explanations for children, in consultation with teachers and a psychologist – check out the online version here.
Maintain activity and relaxation, even at home
We may not be able to head out as much for sun and fresh air, but we can still make many things work at home. Supplement schools’ home-based learning with fun activities and games, right in the comfort of home. Schedule a fixed timing every day for your kids to play and to rest. Set aside time after your home-based work, to engage in a game or hobby with them. You could have some fun taking part in our Active Parents weekly challenges (and stand to win some attractive prizes!). Keep meal and bed time regular. These instil some form of regularity amid our temporarily-changed lifestyle.
Try to lower expectations, on our kids just as much as on ourselves. Think about what we are still able to do during such challenging times, instead of focusing on what we are unable to. Reward your children when they are being cooperative and understanding – this can be their favourite sticker or snack, or even a game together after dinner.
Remember that bad situations apply to all of us – kids and adults, young and old – and throughout our lives, not just during the current situation. Take the opportunity to guide your children on what is a bad situation, and how they can respond to it.
Lastly, click here for an additional guide from WHO, on helping your children cope with stress during COVID-19.