How does isolation and all the coronavirus story affect children?

In this state of emergency in which we and the entire world find ourselves, it is normal for many of us to be worried, scared and upset and living with uncertainty is not easy. These are all normal reactions, especially in the phase of changing habits, and it takes us a while to adjust to, both us adults and children.

Kids will know that you are worried and upset even if you try to hide it. They respond to what they see in their environment, more than what you tell them. Children are as vulnerable as adults, but they are also equipped with the capacity for resilience-skills in dealing with difficult situations, provided they are given clear and appropriate support from the environment. Children’s reactions may be different, especially in these early days, when theirs and adults’ routine changes. No matter what your child’s age, your child may feel anxious or have other strong emotions. Some children respond immediately, while others may show difficulty much later. The ways in which a child responds may vary depending on the child’s age, previous experiences, and how the child usually copes with stress.

For the most part, children respond to what they see from their parents and loved ones around them. So when parents, educators can handle themselves calmly and confidently, regardless of their anxiety and concern, and can honestly share it with their children, talk to them about it, then they provide the best support for their children. It is therefore very important that adults can adequately cope with their stress reactions, normalize them, and thus provide the necessary emotional security, support and protection for their children. It’s kind of hard sometimes, and it’s okay. But if it becomes a daily routine and parents feel that they cannot cope with their intense feelings and thoughts, that their daily functioning and relationships are disturbed, it is important that they seek professional help for themselves.

Can they be aware of what’s going on?

How children are daily exposed to information from different sides, from adults, from the media, classmates, teachers, etc. whether they were aware of it or not, understood or not, what is quite certain is that they recognize emotions from the environment. Encourage the child to talk, to ask what he or she knows, what he or she thinks, what concerns him or her about the coronavirus. Sometimes adults believe that by avoiding conversations on a particular topic, they protect the child. Often, in this way, the child feels that something is hiding from him and thus the problem is too scary, which can result that child’s worries become more intense.

So avoiding talking to your child “in the best intention of protecting your child” can do more harm. Children may misunderstand what they hear, have a picture and fantasy of their own, develop specific fears that affect their feelings and behaviors. Some children may seek more physical closeness, call their parents more often or have nightmares, may begin to urinate in bed, be irritable, overreact, withdraw, have a lack of energy. Therefore, as uncomfortable as we are, it is important to talk to the child, give them enough time and space to express their feelings through play, drawing, taking into account their age and level of development.

It is important to ask them what concerns them and to correct any misconceptions and fantasies that the child has, by providing clear, reliable information in a dictionary that the child understands. It is not good to go into extensive explanations that go beyond the child’s capacity to understand and thus overwhelm them, but not to diminish them. We need to be patient and be there for the child and with the child.

How to explain to them that it is something different, that they cannot go outside, do normal activities, go to school, to trainings, birthdays … And how to spend quality time with children? What about when children of different ages, how do you balance their activities without spending time in front of the TV?

First of all, we should be gentle on ourselves and others, able to recognize and control our own anxiety, know that you are not alone in this, be there for each other, focus on useful information about the virus based on facts and follow the recommendations of the competent institutions.

It is important to adjust and explain the information to children according to their age.

As preschoolers (2-6 years old) are more in tune with their parenting emotions, they are influenced, so it is important to provide them with structure and predictability. It is important that the structure of the day is reminiscent of the structure they are used to, e.g. in kindergarten. Which means waking up to normal times, daily hygiene, washing your teeth, breakfast and dressing, then preparing activities, like reading a picture book, drawing. It is important for parents to lead these activities. I know of a kindergarten in Sarajevo, which has adapted its activities to this crisis, so that they support children and parents online by offering their presence and various activities. Preschool children are given security through structure by significant persons, parents and educators.

A suggestion for parents is to agree with the children two or three rules that apply to all members of the household and agree on a reward for adhering to the rules, and the consequences if we break them. For example, in order to respect a preventative health measure, it is a great idea that while washing your hands with young children, design a rhyme for about 20 seconds so that they know how to do it later and praise them for it. Suggest some common home hygiene care activities and get your kids involved so they will feel that they are contributing to the good. They can choose as a reward a board game that you will play together in the evening.

With school children (7-12 years old) who can understand more about infectious disease, explain to them that the germs that cause coronavirus are similar to those that cause colds. Remind them that these diseases can be spread easily, but also preventable, which is why we need to wash our hands properly and use alcohol wipes. Kids this age need a routine.Try to keep your daily schedule at home as usual. The very maintenance of online teaching, communication with peers, their teachers and teaching staff in the virtual world, contributes to the establishment of normalization of children’s everyday life and reduces the feeling of isolation and anxiety.

Discuss why not go to school or work and make it clear that the most important reason for staying home is that we take best care of ourselves and our loved ones and help our community not spread the disease to others.It is a way for children and adolescents to feel their contribution to suppressing the spread of the virus, which contributes to their empowerment and the development of resilience capacity — the ability to cope with stressful situations. This will make a long-term well-being for our children, as we teach them to care for themselves and take care of others, thereby enhancing the development of empathy.

Adolescents (13-18 years old) have probably heard and know a great deal about COVID-19 and its potential danger. They are mature enough to understand how it is expanding, to understand the importance and adherence to preventative measures and future risks. Have open conversations with them, starting with open questions about what they know, what they care about, and how they feel. Kids this age are mature enough to watch the news or go online with you and explore trusted places to learn more about the virus. Talk about what they see and read and how illness can affect their lives and the lives of others. Involving adolescents in activities to help and be part of family protection (to find new relevant sources of information, to share them with you, to help younger siblings in their responsibilities, to organize the day, to cook …) helps them feel valued, and this reinforces their identity.

Parents are now mostly working from their homes, with the need to entertain and care for their children, and to help with homework, especially in smaller classes. How to balance it all without the youngest suffering, how to treat them?

True, it is important to be aware that we are organizing the best we can at this time, although we may not be happy with it. Let us be caring about ourselves and others and lower our criteria, lower our expectations of ourselves by focusing on the little things that may be more than sufficient at the moment. Organizing a day to respond to school or business responsibilities, the needs of the child, partner and parenting responsibilities, a time dedicated to giving warm words to your loved ones and friends is not easy, and sometimes impossible. Because of this, it is important to do a step-by-step routine. Especially because it won’t be easy for parents working from home.

It is important for the employer, but we also have an understanding for it. Of course, the younger the child, the better the chances of organizing work from home are more difficult. More fortunate are those whose employer has an understanding of this and allows flexible working hours, so that we can devote our business responsibilities early in the morning or later in the night. Also, it would be good to provide one part of the apartment, if possible, in which to work, because it is very difficult that we will be able to work with a laptop with the children around us. It is also important to prepare the child and tell him or her that you will work now, that you need half an hour or an hour for it, to agree on what it will do during that time. The child was expected to try to break the deal and look for you. Delaying your child’s need to play with him “now” while you work is ok. You can tell him “I’ll be happy to play with you, but in half an hour as we agreed.” With older kids, it’s much easier, especially if we can reconcile their work and their school responsibilities.

And let’s not forget that we act responsibly, protecting ourselves and others from potential coronavirus infection. Let us be aware of it and be in tune with one another, because it is a common togetherness that we have never experienced in our lives. Let us stay and be kind, caring and generous to one another, to our partners, to our children, and especially to our elders. Let us demonstrate the deep life values we have and be there for each other, in these challenging times.