SCE Social & Emotional Corner
A response to COVID-19
Support In Difficult Times
Care for the Caregiver
Self-care can come in many forms and each can help address the signs and symptoms mentioned above. The following strategies can be effective in managing some of the challenges associated with this crisis.
- Create a structure and routine for the day. By maintaining a daily routine and building structure into the day, you can foster a sense of control and bring predictability to this unpredictable situation. This will help to reduce stress responses, keep our bodies regulated, and facilitate recovery. For example, continue to get out of bed at the same time, have specific times and deadlines to complete tasks, have a designated work space if you are working from home, exercise at the same time each day, have family meals, and maintain a consistent bedtime.
- Reduce and limit exposure to media coverage of the pandemic. The anxiety associated with the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of the pandemic makes us crave information as a means of making sense of what is going on and regain control. However, watching media coverage for long periods of time may actually increase anxiety, as this can keep our response systems activated. As a way to reduce stress, get news only from reputable sources, watch or read the news for short periods of time (e.g., no more than 30 minutes), and don’t view the news right before bed.
- Attend to your physical self-care. This includes getting adequate sleep and taking breaks during the workday. Many people use exercise for stress reduction, even taking walks or bike rides, which can help calm the physical body. Use stress management techniques such as using yoga, deep breathing, calming self-talk, or soothing music.
- Care for your emotional health. Finding a balance between work and home is important, especially during times when crisis demands add to already busy workloads. The use of good time management skills and priority setting can help people focus on something practical to do right now to manage the situation. Keep in mind the difference between things one can change (in the system or the world) and accepting those one cannot. Identifying things to be grateful for in life is a strategy to shift your mindset.
- Maintain social connections and focus on social care. This can contribute to resilience. We can still talk and listen to each other while maintaining physical distance. Appreciate that family and friends are important and let them know. Practicing your spiritual or religious faith may provide comfort and be calming. Stress can actually be reduced when people turn to action, such as by engaging in acts of kindness, activism, or advocacy work. Engage in hobbies or passions for creativity. Finally, look for some humor and goodness in life during this stressful time.
Talking to Your Child About School Closure
Talking honestly about school being closed for the remainder of the year helps to get out in front of any anxiety or fear your child may be having. Checking-in with your child lets them know they can come to you with any feelings and questions they might have.
Tips for Having the Conversation
1. Find some alone time. Use a slow pace and soft tone.
2. Use words to prepare your child for the seriousness of the conversation.
3. Deliver truthful, specific information.
Sample script: Hey ______ (step 1)… I want to talk about something that you might have strong feelings about (step 2)…we found out that your school is closed for the rest of the year. That means even as it gets warmer, you won’t be going back. You won’t return until you are in ____ grade - or after summer and a new school year starts in the fall - (step 3).” Wait. Sit. Take a deep breath. Wait again (step 4).
Reactions You May Get and Ideas for Responding
Child Reaction #1: No Response (Ex. Child stares, pauses, then looks up and asks, “Okay. Can I have my snack now?”)
Helpful Response: “I think maybe you’re letting me know that you’re thinking about what I just told you….such a big change… sure, what would you like?”
A day or so later, check in with something like: “I’m still thinking about how you won’t be going back to school for a long time… are you thinking about that at all?” Remember: Your child might express feelings through behavior. Difficult behavior might be “telling” you that your child is having big feelings about school closure and the other significant changes in their life.
Child Reaction #2: My child has big feelings – anger, sadness, tears. “This is so unfair! I hate being at home!” or tears, screaming, hitting.
Helpful Response: Sit with your child in whatever emotional reaction they’re having. Don’t try to change the feeling. Instead, say something simple like, “I know. It’s really disappointing. I get that it feels so unfair. Because it is.” This is validating their feelings. A boundary might also be necessary: “You’re allowed to be upset. I won’t let you hit. But I know this awful feeling is so big. I am here to help figure this out.”
You can provide your child with language and model that having more than one feeling is okay: Ex. “You might be feeling happy you get to stay home with us.” “You might feel sad because you miss your friends and your teacher.” “You might feel angry because you won’t get to do (insert end of year activity).” Give them permission to feel different feelings.
You can have this conversation while coloring, doing a craft, playing, or building.
This information was adapted from Dr. Becky Kennedy, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist (Instagram:@drbeckyathome; https://linktr.ee/DrBeckyatHome) She is an informative professional to follow for parenting advice in general, and during this time in our world.
Take Time to Talk
- Let your children's questions guide you. Answer their questions truthfully, but don't offer unnecessary details or facts. Don't avoid giving them the information that experts indicate as crucial to your children's well-being. Often, children and youth do not talk about their concerns because they are confused or don't want to worry loved ones. Younger children absorb scary information in waves. They ask questions, listen, play, and then repeat the cycle. Children always feel empowered if they can control some aspects of their life. A sense of control reduces fear.
Stay Calm, Listen, and Offer Reassurance
- Be a role model. Children will react to and follow your reactions.
- Be aware of how you talk about COVID-19. Your discussion about COVID-19 can increase or decrease your child's fear. If true, remind your child that your family is healthy, and you are going to do everything within your power to keep loved ones safe and well. Carefully listen or have them draw or write out their thoughts and feelings and respond with truth and reassurance.
- Explain social distancing. Children probably don’t fully understand why parents/guardians aren’t allowing them to be with friends. Tell your child that your family is following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which include social distancing. See above story to help explain to younger children. Showing older children the "flatten the curve" charts will help them grasp the significance of social distancing. Explain that while we don't know how long it will take to "flatten the curve" to reduce the number of those infected, we do know that this is a critical time—we must follow the guidelines of health experts to do our part.
- Demonstrate deep breathing. Deep breathing is a valuable tool for calming the nervous system. Do breathing exercises with your children.
- Focus on the positive. Celebrate having more time to spend as a family. Make it as fun as possible. Do family projects. Organize belongings, create masterpieces. Sing, laugh, and go outside, if possible, to connect with nature and get needed exercise. Allow older children to connect with their friends virtually.
- Establish and maintain a daily routine. Keeping a regular schedule provides a sense of control, predictability, calm, and well-being. It also helps children and other family members respect others’ need for quiet or uninterrupted time and when they can connect with friends virtually.
- Identify projects that might help others. This could include: writing letters to the neighbors or others who might be stuck at home alone or to healthcare workers; sending positive messages over social media; or reading a favorite children’s book on a social media platform for younger children to hear.
- Offer lots of love and affection.
Adapted from, Talking to Children About COVID-19 (Coronavirus): A Parent Resource, National Association of School Psychologists and National Association of School Nurses, NASP, 2020.
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