As if there isn’t enough to deal with during this crisis, parents and grandparents must also consider the wellbeing of their children. Whenever children do return to school, the setup will be vastly different. What should you tell them and when? Although that depends to some extent on each child’s age and temperament, here are five guidelines.
1. Start by imagining the world from their point of view.
When we feel threatened, it’s easy to assume others are worrying about the same things and in the same way we are. But children won’t see the current situation as adults do. They’ve never been children before, so – unlike you – they don’t have a preconceived idea of what’s “normal”. If they’re anxious, it’s primarily because you are, rather than because of any external threat.
According to child psychologist Jean Piaget, children up to age six or seven think about the world almost entirely from their own point of view, and their outlook widens only gradually.
Therefore, before you attempt to reassure your child, make sure you understand what’s worrying them. Ask questions, listen carefully, and respond from their perspective, rather than from your own.
2. Be honest.
To feel safe, children need to know their carers are telling the truth. Carol Dweck at Stanford has demonstrated in a number of studies that when carers reassure a child unrealistically, for example telling them they’ve done a great job when they know that’s not true, the child becomes anxious and loses self-confidence. If instead they’re praised for their efforts, and if they see it’s OK to fail and try again, they grow up confident and unafraid of new challenges.
3. Be a good role model.
If you don’t know the answer to something, admit it – but add that you’ll try to find out.
4. Focus on the positives where you can.
This virus poses an unprecedented threat, but it’s also meant scientists across the world are collaborating as never before and coming up daily with ingenious possibilities. For example, Daniel Wrapp at the University of Texas collaborated with researchers at Ghent University in Belgium and has just discovered that llamas possess antibodies that may help protect humans who’ve not yet been infected with Covid-19.
Look out for discoveries like this and point them out to your children, to balance the fear-invoking stories that dominate the news.
5. Take time to address your own anxieties.
Mothers who try to hide their anxiety make their children more rather than less anxious, and mothers and fathers who do so create an environment that’s less warm and engaging for both parents and children, according to recent findings by Sara Waters at Washington State University in Vancouver.
Whether you try to hide it or not, your children know when you’re distressed, so it’s important to find ways of managing your anxiety. Take regular exercise, talk to supportive friends, and/or practise mindfulness, yoga or tai chi.
The Daily Telegraph