As the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown continues to overwhelm households throughout the globe, families and their children are developing feelings of sadness, anxiety, fear of death, and fear of being isolated. Dr. Laura Markham who is a clinical psychologist and Columbia University graduate, was recently interviewed by The Baltimore Times. The founder of AhaParenting.com, author of three books, and parenting coach, Dr. Markham uses her expertise to help many families across the world.
Q: How should parents talk to their children about coronavirus pandemic?
Children take their cues from us. So, if you are worrying about the pandemic, your child will be more worried. It is very important you manage your own anxiety, so your child feels secure and confident. Your child needs to feel that you are going to keep them safe. You can tell your child yes, this is a germ that can affect people really badly. We have to be very careful. We wash our hands; we wear a mask and we don’t go to see people inside their homes. But don’t worry it’s the parents’ job to keep their children safe and I will keep you safe.
Q: The current pandemic is affecting kids emotionally. What should parents understand about the impact that stress can have on children?
Children are stressed out if parents are stressed out. No parent need to listen to news in front of their kids. You definitely don’t want your child to hear about the number of cases and death tolls from coronavirus. It is not helpful to a child. You have to keep in mind that when children are stressed they don’t necessarily come to you and tell you about what they are stressed about. Instead, they misbehave. It is very important for parents to remember that this is a difficult time for kids. Sure, parents need to set a limit when a child misbehaves. However, parents also need to be patient and understanding that their kids are having hard time and suffering from isolation and limitation. They cannot do the same things they used to do. Everything is upsetting and different for them.
Q: How do you think the pandemic will impact young children’s social, emotional, or mental wellbeing?
I think it depends on the age of the child. One thing that concerns a lot of professionals is that children need to see faces. They need it for both their verbal and emotional development. For instance, a baby and a toddler need to see parents’ faces, which impacts their understanding of emotions.
Q: What strategies can parents implement to help their kids cope with loneliness during COVID-19?
One thing, kids can meet up with their friends. If you know of any families who are careful about the virus the way your family is, and if you and your kids can get along with these families. Second, kids can meet up with their friends online with parents’ supervision. They can find activities they like such as painting, coloring, stories or playing with clay. They can interact and show each other monsters that they are making out of clay. It is possible even for your younger kids to have a play date on zoom. Finally, playing with their siblings. It is possible for siblings to get closer at this time when they don’t have friends around.
Q: What should parents do if their children start acting out?
First, you have to remember that kids are just like grown ups. Sometimes they just need to cry. When your child gets really difficult, you should be very patient and very understanding. However, you will set whatever limit you want to. Yet, take a deep breath, calm yourself and do not take it personally. Tell your kids the magic words such as: I hear you! I understand! When you do that you are not angry about it. You are calm, patient and loving while you are implementing your rules. Parents should keep the lines of communication open with their children and allow them to express their feelings. Q: In your opinion, what are some of the best ways that parents can rely on to cope with their own social and emotional hardship during the pandemic?
It is hard for parents. First, you should notice how you are coping with stress and try to be constructive about it. Many parents that I talked to are using alcohol, watching Netflix or social media instead of getting a goodnight’s sleep. My advice is to limit your social media intake. Also, research shows that there are three things that reliably reduce stress, reduce anxiety and reduce depression— 1-physical exercise; 2-get outside; and 3-health [using] the mindfulness practice such as guided meditation every day. If you have children, you can have a dancing party after dinner. Take your kids outside and play with them. Guided mediation is good for kids as well. You can download a free app to do that. This will make a big difference in your ability to stay calm when your kids act out.