At the time of this writing, it’s been seven weeks since Michigan’s stay at home order was first issued. The toll has been heavy as Michiganders do their part to flatten the curve of COVID-19. At that time citizens scrambled to figure out how to live with this new normal. For many, this also included figuring out how to adjust to having children home – all the time. This looked different for different families. Some were adjusting to online learning formats for children in school and balancing that with working from home. Others were adjusting to still having to work outside the home and figuring out what to do with children who were home. For some, it was balancing the loss of employment and the stress of that on the family…and the kids were at home. Added to that is the stress of social media painting this beautiful “Leave it to Beaver” picture of life at home during the quarantine. Time to binge-watch your favorite shows, cook beautiful and healthy foods, take up a new hobby, connect with your kids at a deeper level. While this may be true for some people, the reality is much messier and there is an authenticity in that messiness.
For some families, they noticed behavioral and emotional challenges with children at the outset of the stay at home order. For others, the prolonged nature of the stay at home order and the uncertainty of this time has started to take effect. As the Michigan economy slowly starts to test the waters and parts of the stay at home order are lifted, we will still be living in a different world. The invisible threat to our families and loved ones will linger. It’s important to know what to do with some of the behaviors and emotions caregivers notice about their children.
With some children, you may notice more anxious behaviors. Kids may seem more clingy than normal. Past behavioral and emotional difficulties that have gotten better may see a resurgence. You may notice problems with bedtime routines. Problems with getting to sleep and even nightmares.
Irritability and Anger
Some children may lash out verbally or physically. They may yell more, have less patience than they have in the past. Feelings of sadness, hurt, and fear can manifest themselves in irritability and anger.
You may see increased crying spells. They may be missing friends and family members who they can’t see. Many families are dealing with grief due to loved ones that have died. There is also grief that happens with the loss of normal experiences in our lives: not being able to go to the playground, not being able to celebrate family milestones like weddings or graduations in the same way.
Resilience and Hope
The important thing to note is that there are all sorts of reactions to uncertainty. But there is also something caregivers can do to help children during this time to sort through their feelings.
Creating a sense of predictability and routine for children can help them organize their day and know what to expect. This can foster a sense of calm for them and help with feelings of anxiety. Try to get up and go to bed at similar times each day. Eat meals at similar times.
For some families, a schedule to manage time can be helpful in creating a routine. An hour-by-hour schedule can work for some families. Others may gravitate toward blocking time by morning, afternoon, or evening. Within the schedule be sure to have physical activity included. If it is nice enough to go outside for a walk or play, it should be encouraged. There are also short family exercise or yoga videos on YouTube if you can’t get outside. What can help children who feel a loss of control is to have input into the schedule. If you are doing an hour-by hour-schedule, ask if they would like to move their body first or do schoolwork. If you are organizing time in chunks, perhaps coming up with a list of tasks for the time period and then they can choose the order in which to complete them. Also think about when your child is sharpest mentally during the day. You may want to ensure school/learning times are scheduled when their attention is at its best.
Be sure to leave time for free play too and if possible, join them in play for periods of time. It doesn’t have to be long; every family is different. Realize that you may see themes of sickness and death in play. Children, especially younger kids, attempt to resolve the feelings they have through play. Play doctor kits can be especially helpful to have on hand. If you don’t have access to a doctor kit, you can use household items to represent items such as a stethoscope and a thermometer to use during play.
During evening and bedtime, try and stick to a routine here as well. Have time for bathing, storytime, etc. and try to do those things in the same order to create calm for children. Meditation, guided imagery, and breathing exercises can also be helpful. It’s important to note that these things often don’t help right away and must be practiced on an ongoing basis. Check out www.headspace.com/mi for some exercises, including exercises for children and families.
Practicing gratitude and kind acts for others can also help channel feelings experienced into a positive outlet. Children can draw pictures or write letters to loved ones, neighbors, the elderly,and friends to help them feel better and remain connected. Families can join the Rainbows over Michigan initiative to instill feelings of hope and unity by decorating windows with artwork of rainbows for others to see as they drive or walk by. Creating space to talk with children about their feelings can be extremely helpful for them to start to verbalize what is going on. Or have them draw a picture about how they are feeling.
Getting Extra Support
Parents and children may need extra support too. For parents and caregivers, Deepwater Counseling is hosting a free online COIVD-19 support group every Thursday at 3pm. Parents, caregivers, and children may need extra support through one-on-one telehealth counseling services. Now is an excellent time to get the extra support you or your children need. Check with your insurance as many insurance companies are waiving copays right now. For more information about accessing the online support group or counseling services, please contact Jennifer Burger, Clinical Director at Deepwater Counseling at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-203-0183 ext. 706.