In distress

Show support for children through stressful times

By Barbara Pierce

These times are stressful for us all. Our kids have a front row seat to our current struggles, experiencing the trickle-down effect of the stress we’re going through thanks to COVID-19.

They feel the undercurrent of anxiety that is in most homes much of the time. It impacts them too.

Being out of school, they no longer have the structure that comes from going to school every day. They aren’t able to be with their friends and get the support that comes from friends.

They’re feeling worry, anxiety and fear — the same fears that we have, like a fear of dying and a fear of people close to them dying, or perhaps economic survival.

Children show stress through changes in their behavior. A child may become clingy, easily frustrated, angry or irritable, cry, even pull away from you, or pull away from things they used to like doing. Changes in sleep patterns, or eating, headaches or other aches all could be signs of stress.

It helps to remember that you are not causing this behavior; it is your child trying to deal with something that makes him scared and anxious.

Janine Phillips, support group coordinator for the YWCA of the Mohawk Valley in Utica, offers parents these suggestions to help support their children through these difficult times:

— Maintain structure-routine: “Structure gives your children something to hold onto in this stressful time,” Phillips said. “You don’t have to run a boot camp, but you do need some structure.”

“I raised two children, so I know how important this is,” she added. Keep your routines for morning, mealtimes, and bedtime consistent. This gives kids a sense of consistency, normalcy, and it helps you too.

— Communicate: “Talk about what’s going on in a way that’s age appropriate, and in a language that’s not over their heads. Wait until they ask, then answer their questions honestly. Don’t give them more information than they’ve asked for,” she suggested.

Some children will want to talk about difficult things and some won’t. Encourage them to share their thoughts and questions and listen to them.

It’s all right if you don’t know the answer to every question. Work together to find the answer.

— Monitor TV and the Internet: TV and social media cover news in depth, and often include scenes that are inappropriate for children to view. “For younger kids, have conversations without the sensationalism of the news,” advised Phillips. “With your older kids, watch the news with them and start a conversation about it.”

Going virtual

— Keep in contact with extended family and friends: “Use Zoom or FaceTime with grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles; arrange for them to have face time with their friends,” she suggested. Also, arrange virtual play dates.

“Don’t forget notes, cards and letters to grandparents. It gives your kids something productive to do, and people love getting something besides bills in the mail,” she said.

— Do fun things together: “Laugh together, play games together; do something positive, something fun. My kids and I drum; we play music and dance together,” Phillips noted. “Be active with your kids, especially now.”

“Instead of your kids playing video games all the time, give them more to do. Give them ‘homework,’ learning work. Give them time for games and down time to read. Go outside with your kids, walk to the park, to the river, get outside, even if it’s just in your back yard,” she said.

“Talk with them about their life. If they like to play video games, watch them play, then ask about what they’re doing. Learn what they play and what they’re doing,” Phillips added.

— Watch your language: “Don’t let them hear you talking on the phone or complaining to your friends. If they hear you saying: ‘I’m here stuck in the house all day with these kids!’ they’ll think you don’t love them, and they are a burden to you,” she said.

“We can provide a sense of normalcy by the way we handle this traumatic time. If we’re freaking out, they’re upset. Kids will feed off the emotions we have,” Phillips said.

— Encourage hope: “Give them a sense that everything will be OK. Let them know that we live here in an area with fewer people. We’re seen rising death rates, but we’re fortunate to live in a place where we don’t have lots of people,” she said. “We are relatively safe as long as we wear our masks when we go out, keep apart from other people, wash our hands frequently, and don’t go places where others aren’t wearing masks.”

For more from Phillips, see her blog “Staying safe when quarantined” at https://www.ywcamv.org.

YWCA Mohawk Valley is a certified provider of domestic and sexual violence crisis services, offering a 24-hour hotline, individual and group counseling, safe housing, and more. Services are confidential and free.

See https://www.ywcamv.org or call 315-797-7740 in Oneida County, 315-866-4120 in Herkimer County.

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