With COVID-19 cases continuing to increase across Ohio, the spike might soon keep parents and kids at home and away from others to help stop the spread of the virus.
Adjusting to a new normal and routine is stressful for everyone, especially for kids who may have trouble with change.
Dr. Laura Markley, a pediatrician and medical director of consultation-liaison Psychiatry at Akron Children’s, said establishing a schedule now and creating structure in the home each day is the best thing parents can do to help prepare kids for another potential lockdown.
“Establishing a routine will create consistency in the home and things won’t seem as drastically different if there is another lockdown,” she said. “Keeping things as predictable as possible now will help it be less of a shift if it gets to the point where the kids can’t go out again.”
First and foremost, set a schedule for each day that may include a set wakeup time, chores, school activities, outside time and more. Each day doesn’t have to be exactly the same and you don’t have to plan every minute of every day. Just plan enough activities to create structure and predictability that your kids will thrive on.
Plan activities that your kids can do even in a lockdown, so the activities won’t change all that much if you’re stuck at home. Activities may include family game night, outdoor fun, crafts, reading time and more.
For older children, it’s a great opportunity for them to learn life skills. Maybe they can help prepare and plan meals for dinner, learn to do the laundry or help with the dusting and vacuuming.
In addition, suggest ways your kids can better keep in touch with friends and loved ones. Set up FaceTime video chats with friends — or even cousins and grandparents — that your kids haven’t see in awhile. Kids can even schedule group activities to do together with friends virtually, such as playing Pictionary or charades, doing crafts together or having a mani/pedi session.
It’s also a good idea to squeeze in physical activity every day to expend kids’ energy and get the “wiggles” out, as Dr. Markley calls it. There’s an abundance of videos online that offer free yoga and exercise classes for kids. Or, spend the day outside, running around the yard, playing tag or pulling together a family baseball game.
“There’s this perception with lockdown that you can’t leave the house,” said Dr. Markley. “But, there’s still the yard and the great outdoors. Sometimes having a day where everyone goes outside to play and expend energy breaks up the monotony of being in the house.”
Find ways to reduce your child’s stress and anxiety
With much uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, stress and anxiety is bound to build up.
If you find your kids are expressing their anxiety by acting out, first try to redirect the behavior. Find constructive and praise-worthy activities for kids. They could make cards for grandparents or create a time capsule to capture what this experience has been like for them.
In addition, you can try a sticker chart and offer rewards that don’t cost money, such as choosing what the family eats for dinner or the night’s activity, such as a game or movie.
“Choose your battles, knowing what to address and what to let slide,” said Dr. Markley. “Kids respond more often to praise and positive reinforcement, so be sure to ‘catch’ them being good to reinforce positive behavior.”
If your older child expresses anxiety, don’t dismiss her emotions by telling her not to worry. There is a lot of exposure to rising COVID-19 cases and other stress-inducing stories online and in social media.
“Instead, acknowledge their emotions and ask if they have specific concerns. Talk about what’s going on and emphasize what you are doing as a family to stay safer,” said Dr. Markley. “Remind your children that wearing masks out in public, practicing social distancing and washing hands frequently helps keep us safe, so they can have less to worry about.”
Remember, kids often model their parents’ responses. So, be sure to set a good example by wearing a mask in public and practicing social distancing.
Also, if you’re constantly complaining or stressing about the current situation, your kids will follow suit. As a parent, if you’re having negative feelings or anxiety, be sure to process those emotions with other adults and not around your children.
“Parents need to be aware of their own stress levels,” said Dr. Markley. “Take a time out when you need one and make sure you’re addressing your own mental health concerns. As the saying goes, ‘You can’t pour from an empty glass.’”
If your child seems to be struggling significantly, Akron Children’s Lois and John Orr Family Behavioral Health Center is offering mental health services via telehealth. Call 330-543-5015 to schedule an appointment.
Learn more about Akron Children’s COVID-19 response and resources available for families.