As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise across the globe, workplaces and schools are now closed, leaving many parents working from home without childcare for the foreseeable future. All over the world stress and anxiety surrounding the virus have risen, not only in adults but in children too. The current uncertainty and worries the outbreak brings are causing dramatic changes in all of our lives that will ultimately affect our children, it is important that we explain what is happening in a way that they can understand and help them feel safe.
Talking to your children about the Coronavirus pandemic
Children’s reactions and responses to stress can be very unusual and vary dramatically. It could be the case that your child has become more clingy, started to act up, become more irritable or demanding, is having issues with sleeping and/or eating. These behaviours are just natural responses to a stressful situation and as adults, we have to show patience and high levels of empathy in response. By calmly approaching these behaviours we can address these issues.
It is true that children often rely on their impressive imaginations to fill in the missing gaps when they do not have enough information. In the end, this can actually end up causing more stress for them than telling them the truth in the first place. Choosing to withhold information is a bad idea, instead, tell the truth in an age-appropriate way. You can show the kids a number of online resources that explain what is happening in the world in an age-appropriate way:
– BrainPOP has a great animation video explaining what the coronavirus is in an age-appropriate way. It also has a number of other online tools such as a quiz and worksheets that will help your little ones understand and even have some fun!
– Headspace has launched a number of resources to help guide parents on approaching the subject with their children and how we can and should be kind to ourselves in the current climate. Additionally, they have also released a free collection of meditation and mindfulness content called ‘Weathering the storm’.
– PBS kids have a great website on how to broach the topic of coronavirus with your children!
Additionally, parents should limit the amount of time their child is exposed to the news or any other media outlet that is talking about the pandemic. They are usually not age-appropriate and constant threats to public safety can cause unnecessary stress for the little ones.
Why focus on the mind
With a global pandemic outbreak happening right before their very eyes, many children will be feeling frightened and very confused. After all, it is an anxious time for everyone, never mind our little ones. A great tool for helping children cope with these feelings is to demonstrate and practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the regular and repeated act of directing our attention to the present moment. Generally, our attention is drawn to whatever stimulates our mind or seems interesting at the time, this can often be ‘what ifs’ and negative thinking. Mindfulness is a quality that helps us to focus on the present without judging ourselves. Usually, mindfulness is used to reduce a person’s stress or just to improve a person’s well-being in general. In a more broad sense, the end result of mindfulness is that a person will be able to sit with all their experiences…the good, the bad and the ugly.
Adapting mindfulness activities for children
Mindfulness is usually associated with mediation, breathing exercises, and listening techniques. These are all great ways to practice mindfulness, however, asking a child to focus on their breathing for anything longer than 10 seconds is almost impossible. This is the case for a lot of other adult mindfulness techniques too. Now, this doesn’t mean that children can’t practice mindfulness, we just have to adapt the exercises and techniques so that the little ones can join in too. Mindfulness activities for children should focus on the senses and sensory language (discussing textures, smell, taste, etc), it should be play-based, interactive, hands-on and above all fun!
Here are some examples of mindfulness activities for children:
Sensory countdown game
If you have just started practicing mindfulness with your child, then the sensory countdown game, otherwise known as the countdown to five is a great way to get started. This simple activity is a wonderful way to regain focus and to put the mind in an aware and present state.
1. This is a great way to take your daily walk with the family! During your walk ask the kids to try and notice: five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
2. Make a note of these and try and get different ones every day. As the days go on, it will get harder, your children will have to focus more on their senses and the world around them.
3. This can also be adapted to make an inside activity too
This activity only takes around five minutes but can be very effective, even from the first attempt! This activity is great for after play-time, before homework and even before bedtime to help the kids wind down and truly take a break.
1. To begin you ask your child to pretend to be a robot.
2. Then you (the parent) can ‘shut down’ your child (this is usually fun if you used a prop as the control. You could even make one out of a cereal box, click here to see how).
3. Ask them, one body part at a time to ‘shut down’ and prevent movement one body part at a time. To begin you can start with legs and work up. As your child gets better you can become more detailed in this and add in smaller body parts such as the toes etc.
4. As you shut down each body part, ask your child if they can feel any ‘electricity’ in that part of the body anymore. This makes them aware of this certain body part and brings them to the present time focusing on this.
5. If you become very advanced at this activity then you can ‘reset’ and try the opposite way and then back again if you wanted!
Belly breathing breaks
Our feelings and emotions are related to our thoughts and the same goes for our children. When children are anxious or worried their mind can be full of thoughts that drive these emotions and can generate physical symptoms. By doing this sort of exercise it can help quiet a busy mind, which in turn can soothe their emotions and physical responses.
1. Find a comfortable spot for your little one to lie down, make sure their back is straight, ask them to take a deep breath and to place their arms in a relaxed position by their side.
2. Ask them to close their eyes and focus on any specific sounds or smells, you can even ask what they think about the room temperature. Use their senses as a tool for noticing their surroundings.
3. After this, ask them to focus on their breathing and if they notice the air entering and leaving their mouth/nose and where they can feel their breath in their body.
4. Then, place their favourite toy on their belly and ask them to focus on that.
5. After this ask them to draw their attention to their toy on their belly and if they notice that it rises and falls with their breath.
6. Ask them to count their breaths (or count them for them) and even suggest calm/slow breathing to see if that helps them feel more relaxed.
As they practice more, they’ll find it easier to remain in the here and now, rather than being caught up in the past or worrying about the future. This can help lessen anxieties that they may have.
Additionally, you can easily incorporate small acts of mindfulness into everyday life. Simple activities such as cooking and cleaning help to relax the mind through the repetitive actions these tasks require and really helps focus the mind on the present (read our spring blog to see what activities you can do as a family). Furthermore, social stories are also a really good way of teaching children a range of behaviors and skills, but also great for outlining special events and situations. Every Tuesday and Thursday we have a bedtime story read by Danyah Miller and guests over on our YouTube channel at 6.30pm, you can also catch it on our IGTV afterward!
Remember basic well-being practices
This new ‘normal’ requires us to build new habits and get creative with our daily lives. Mindfulness helps us to focus on the present, but we must also make sure that we are keeping up general daily well-being practices. Here are some basic things we should do to maintain physical and mental well-being on top of mindfulness:
Practice mindfulness as a family
It is important to designate a certain amount of time each week to practice mindfulness activities as a family. This will help everyone feel less anxious and worried. It could be a daily family yoga session, or a quiet walk in the woods as a family paying countdown to five, taking time to focus on the senses and notice things that you might not have before, it could be the sound of the birds and the smell of the trees. A real simple way of practicing family mindfulness is to ask everyone to mention one good thing they heard or saw that day over dinner. It really can be that simple.