COVID Stress & Kids, things you can do to help.
Updated: Oct 22, 2021
Mommas, this has been a rough year for everyone. My toddler keeps asking me when COVID will be over, and she can go to jumpy castles again. My teen just graduated in a socially-distanced ceremony where they could only invite 4 people.
There have been no birthday parties, no sports, no prom or homecoming.
We have shown up for daycare drop-off and been told the center is closed due to a positive COVID case, had to take the whole family to get tested, and had to quarantine multiple times.
My teen daughter had COVID, she was at her dad's and couldn't come home, and I had to check up on her over the phone without being able to care for her.
Now, we are going into another school year with COVID-19, and still many kids can't get vaccinated. There are school closures, online school, and hybrid models. All the change makes kids uncertain, afraid of getting sick, and without the structure that school usually provides.
Since things are uncertain in the outer world, it is even more important than usual to make our kids feel safe, secure and loved at home. We need to make it a priority to be as loving and gentle with them as possible.
Adults Have Been Frightened, Kids Even More So.
Our kids know that something is wrong, that there are sick people, and many of us have lost loved ones during this time.
It is important to remember that kids don't always know how to voice their fears, and as our society is experiencing this collective trauma, we need to be especially gentle with these little ones.
My toddler turned 4 during the pandemic. We have been in this nightmare limbo of not knowing what comes next for a year now. A couple weeks ago she said to a friend of mine, "A long time ago, we didn't have to wear masks." And it occurred to me:
The pandemic has lasted for 25% of her life.
As mothers, we often try to keep our worries and our fears to ourselves, or talk about them in hushed voices with our partners when the kids are asleep. Still, some of the fear and the uncertainty bleeds over into our interactions with the kids. No matter how much we try not to let it. It may come across in our preoccupation and inattentiveness as we watch the news. Or, we may be anxious ourselves and snap at our kids more than we did before COVID.
Make Time for Self-Care and Mental Health.
I say this both for ourselves, and for our kids. It is said so often that we cannot pour from an empty cup. So, we need to make sure we take the time we need for ourselves, to make sure that our cups are full for our kids.
For me, it is getting up an hour before everyone else to take my anxiety meds, do yoga, and take a shower. That way, I am in a calm and full place when I get my toddler up for the day, and I can spend an hour patiently getting her ready for the day too.
With my teen, it is taking time to put down my phone and listen to her when she gets home from work and talks about her day. It is being patient and gentle with her frustrations about all she lost out on in her senior year, acknowledging her pain, instead of telling her to suck it up and deal because life is hard.
With my toddler, it is trying to provide as much normalcy and play as possible.
Checking in with ourselves, our partners, and our kids regularly to hear everyone's feelings and needs is especially important in these uncertain times.
Some ways to teach young kids about self care, according to Child Savers,
"It is important for families to carve out space for quiet time. A few minutes of singing to your child, reading a book together, or listening to a kid-friendly YouTube meditation can strengthen your connection. Particularly for younger children, consider incorporating a “slow down” time in your family’s routine; this will also help train their brain to make mindful choices.
Some children respond well to having their own “calm-down box”. Include items that are soothing to the senses, i.e. fidget toy, stuffed animal, lollipop, stress ball, bubble wrap, plastic snow globe, scratch & sniff stickers. When you observe them on the verge of a meltdown, encourage the child to utilize the items in the box to help regulate their emotions. It can be helpful to think of these items as “special tools” rather than for normal play. Make sure that you are encouraging the child with positive language rather than making it part of a consequence. The goal is for the child to eventually recognize on their own situations where they could use the box to calm down!"
Other examples of self care for kids include taking vitamins and eating healthy to boost their immune system, making time for exercise, practice mindful breathing, or give them a massage.
Early on in the pandemic, my stress level was so high, I really couldn't think of much to be grateful for. So, I made myself grateful that I was living through a pandemic in the 20th century, instead of the Black Plague in the 1300's. Because you know, things might be really bad, but at least we have indoor plumbing and wifi.
I write in a gratitude journal every morning. Before I start my work, I make sure to write down 5 things that I am grateful for. Sometimes it might seem hard, but I always have:
A roof over my head
Food to eat
A kind partner
Even in dark times, there are so many blessings that we all have, and it is more important than ever to acknowledge them.
I teach my kids a gratitude practice as well. We sort of stumbled into it because our bedtime yoga video asks us at the end to name three things we are grateful for. The first time around, I had to explain to my toddler what gratitude is. Now, she is super cute when she lists what she is happy about. Usually, it is running, jumping and candy. Simple pleasures.
Soak Up Nature.
Now that we are moving into the summer months, I find that it lifts up my mood to go outside as much as possible. Even if it is just having that hot cup of morning coffee outside on the patio. Sunlight provides vitamin D, and it can also lift up our mood all by itself.
Kids love to get outside too. I find myself taking them on walks to the park, since that is one of the safe and socially-distanced things to do. They love to jump in the mud, pick dandelions, play with sidewalk chalk, or just run back and forth in the grass.
Last week, I took my daughter to the park and she wanted to dig in a sand box that was basically just a mud pile after our weird, late spring, Colorado snow. And I let her. That isn't typical me. I hate kids being a mess. But if a mess makes her happy, it isn't really harming anything. Sure, other moms gave me "the look" and pulled their kiddos away from "the mud child." I decided not to care, and let my child's happiness take precedence.
Show Them Extra Love.
If anything, I have learned from the year of the pandemic, to stop placing importance on things that don't really need it. We can let our kids play in the mud. We can wear yoga pants everywhere. We can watch an entire season of something trashy on Netflix and eat the entire bag of chocolate.
What's really important is showing our kids that we love them, that we are listening to and validating their feelings, and that we are doing our best to keep them safe. Isn't that really the most important thing?
I have also written about helping kids cope with stress in general.
Can Your Kids Cope With Stress? (millenialmom.net)
Let me know in the comments what you think, and what ideas you have to show your kids extra love during this stressful time.