How do we keep our children positive and productive during Coronavirus lockdowns? Dr. Anisha Abraham shares a fun and intelligent way to help our kids cope.
I have been getting lots of questions from parents and caregivers about how to help kids handle online schooling, social distancing, and exam and event cancellations. Based on my conversations with kids and parents around the globe, I have put together some top tips (and a very simple way to remember them). Recall that old Aretha Franklin song? When it comes to COVID-19 and young people, let’s give a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
Routines - maintain them!
Expectations - lower them!
Strengths - build them!
Positive Behavior - model it!
Engagement - encourage it!
Cheers - give them!
Technology - embrace it!
Maintaining a routine can give kids a sense of stability. In our house, we made schedules with our pre-teens, which include online school hours, set mealtimes, exercise, small chores and free time. We have had our share of eye rolls and drama, but it does provide a framework for the day. For teens, consider their need for independence and creating their own path for learning, but also encourage them to get physical activity and break large assignments into smaller ones.
You may not be getting as much work done with kids at home (especially young ones). Your child or teen will not be working at the same pace or intensity as a regular school day. They may also have to deal with cancellations in standardized exams or other scheduled activities, such as athletic competitions and birthday parties – all very frustrating experiences. So, now is the time to stress a little less over homework assignments and piano practices. Remember everyone is in a similar situation. Ultimately, we need to prioritize our kids’ wellbeing. Consider this every day.
Every kid has natural interests, whether it is music, arts or writing. Building on their strengths, helps kids develop resilience to handle challenges. One of my 10-year old son’s friends is a budding illustrator and spends time each day drawing elaborate cartoon strips. Another of my sons’ friends created wonderful videos using i-stop motion. Finally, how many of you have heard the phrase “I’m bored” at home recently? Remember encouraging a little non- digital boredom is a great way to promote creativity and self-sufficiency.
Kids learn from adults, also how to react to new challenges. We need to model positive ways to stay healthy and handle uncertainty, including exercising regularly, eating healthy foods to boost immunity, staying connected with loved ones and being kind to others regardless of their background or appearance. Think of ways to give back to your community and provide outreach: for example, helping a neighbor that is elderly, donating items to a food bank or buying gift certificates to support a local business.
Remind children and teens that they have the responsibility to protect themselves and others like their grandparents and elderly neighbors by practicing proper hand washing, sneezing into your elbow and maintaining social distancing. Even infected kids who do not show any symptoms can still transmit the virus to others. (There have also been cases of teens getting very ill which means they themselves are at risk too). Talk to kids about the risks of meeting friends to hang out. Ultimately our obligation as parents and caregivers is to teach social behavior and to keep our teens and our community healthy.
All too often we focus on what our kids are doing wrong. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, we need to make sure we uphold kids and praise them when they do things right. If your child picks up their dirty laundry, writes a funny poem or did something else positive this week, don’t forget to give them credit. Older kids including soon to be graduates may be sad about missing graduations and friends. Encourage them to come up with new milestones and ways to celebrate. Also, remind them it is handling life’s curveballs that is ultimately the best predictor of success.
Regular use of technology has shown in places like Hong Kong to be beneficial in maintaining social connections and emotional well-being, so don’t be too strict on digital media use. Encourage kids to keep in touch with classmates, friends, and family via WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, etc. Worried that they are watching too many Disney movies or playing too much Minecraft? Remember that ultimately it is the 3c’s - connections, content, and child - that are important for kids rather than the amount of time online. In other words, check the content they are viewing, ensure that still have good connections with family members and friends and know your own child’s abilities when it comes to disengaging from digital media use and creating balance.
Finally, what we know from countries which have experienced coronavirus earlier and longer than others is that things will not normalize for months to come. We are slowly preparing for a new normal in terms of social relationships, technology use, and online schooling. If kids are frustrated, angry, or anxious realize it is important to validate their feelings as a natural part of a grieving process. However, if there are significant changes in eating or sleeping habits, persistent irritability or sadness, or the need for constant reassurance, these may be signs that your child is struggling and needs support. Try talking to your child or teen about their fears or get another adult or mentor involved. If that don’t help, it may be time to reach out to your health provider or a counselor. Many are now providing virtual consults. Hopefully, with a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T, we can help our kids prepare for what’s still to come.
Dr. Anisha Abraham is a pediatrician and teen health specialist living in Amsterdam, Netherlands and on faculty at both the University of Amsterdam and Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC. She previously lived and worked in Hong Kong. Anisha helps teens and parents globally, using her 25 years of experience as a clinician, researcher, and educator. Her book Raising Global Teens: Parenting in the 21st Century will be released this autumn. To learn more, please visit her website.