Parents and grandparents have been hit pretty hard and quick on life changes over the past few months. In touching base over the past few months with families, they are adjusting well with physical need reminders of washing hands and not touching the face; maintaining social distance when out in public; and finishing up on school subjects at home. The children are meeting the physical and academic needs, but how can we as parents address emotional needs of our children if we see symptoms of anxiety, fear or worry?
Children are very good observers of parents and teachers. You simply cannot fool them. I know when I was teaching second grade on 9/11, our principal quietly called the teachers in the hall to let us know of the tragic news. She told the teachers to try to remain calm and continue on with instruction until further notice. As I walked back into the classroom the assignment of maintaining composure in front of my young students was a difficult one. One little fellow raised his hand and asked, “Mrs. Pinyerd, why do your eyes look worried?” Wow! Young eyes do observe closely. I was relieved when my principal came into the classroom and explained to the children what was happening and assured them they would be safe.
Being calm during this season of stress can be very difficult. We have to be patient with ourselves during this time. We as adults don’t know what to expect, but one truth our children can observe and witness is that we are walking by faith and trust in God. Take time to explain to your children what is happening in our world in a way they can safely understand. Share age- and developmentally-appropriate information and facts with your children. Let your children know that during this time it will be a challenge, but it is a helpful outreach we can extend to everyone by staying home, social distancing, washing our hands and following what our health leaders are telling us to do. Encourage your children to know that we are helping other people.
With your babies, toddlers and twos, keeping the environment as normal as possible is a high priority at home. They can easily sense emotional upset through facial expression as well as our reactions.
Three-year-olds through kindergarteners will verbalize more what they see and feel. Be ready to spend time really listening to your children at this age and what they are expressing.
With your first through sixth graders you have to be transparent. Children these ages will see your insecurities whether you admit them or not. Do not try to hide your reactions, but instead respond to children this age with honesty on what is happening and that we have to take it day by day.
Providing a home that is a safe haven is to keep your children on a normal schedule and routine. Children love to know what we are doing next. A schedule provides a safe security blanket. But at the same time be sure to check in with your children, especially your older children, to see how they are doing. It is good to address how they are feeling emotionally by listening to how they are expressing themselves. Keep in mind we families are confined to our homes right now with several different personalities who need their space. Giving children their space provides support and encouragement.
Watch what young children are looking at on television. When television is on, young eyes are looking. Young minds process information differently than we adults. We don’t want young minds to be filled with fear. During this time it is good to spend time with our children.
Try to celebrate each day in a special way. As teachers we look at creative resources on special dates to celebrate. This coming Sunday, June 14, is National Flag Day. As families we can celebrate the Stars and Stripes in so many ways. You can review the history of our flag, acknowledging Betsy Ross who history says made our first American flag. Remember the red stripes show courage and valor. White stripes symbolize innocence and purity of a new nation born. The stripes together represent the original thirteen colonies, and the stars represent the number of states. The blue star field on which the stars sit represents justice and perseverance. This is such a good way to celebrate intergenerationally with the family. It doesn’t matter how old we are; making or cheaply buying patriotic pinwheels is such a fun activity! Having the children help you hang up the flag in your home and singing flag songs like “You’re A Grand Old Flag” while marching with little flags or homemade flags provides exercise and recreation whether in the home or outside. Too, the red, white and blue food recipes make good, edible teaching lessons. Families can find so many good recipes online for Flag Day. One of my summer favorites to feed my young students is to use a simple graham cracker, spread with cool whip for white, lay a layer of blueberries, then a layer of strawberries for a wonderful red, white, and blue nutritional treat that can be enjoyed by all!