By Brian J. Benjamin, Psy.D. | 4 May 2020
Be developmentally appropriate, stay cool, calm, and collected when discussing the coronavirus situation
Parents should not avoid talking about the coronavirus situation with their children who also have felt the real changes. Not talking about the issue may increase a child’s anxiety, as they may sense that their parents are avoiding speaking to them. However, it is critical for parents to discuss the situation in a developmentally appropriate way. This means using language your child can understand, and only covering topics which make sense to them. Malka Gharib’s Just For Kids: A Comic Exploring The New Coronavirus provides some good examples of what’s suitable for children.
Further, children can easily pick up on their parent’s mood state, so it is essential for parents to remain cool, calm and collected when discussing COVID-19, to reduce their child’s anxiety.
It’s OK to say “I don’t know”
As the situation continues to evolve, parents may be faced with questions from their children which they may not know the answer to, or face difficulty answering. It is important for parents to empathize with their anxious children’s comments as best they can. This may involve comments such as: “Wow, I can really see that you are thinking about this a lot! I wonder if you feel worried or upset?” Statements like these can implicitly communicate to children that their parents are able and willing to engage with them and explore their internal world. However, it is perfectly alright for parents to tell their kids that they don’t have all the answers. Parents can share, “I don’t know the answer to that right now, but I will try and find out, and let you know when I do learn more”. This approach can help parents model to their children how to sit with a degree of ambiguity and uncertainty; a valuable life-skill both during and beyond the current crisis.
Maintain daily structure and predictability, but break the weekly monotony
In the absence of the full school day, I would encourage parents to get creative with how to keep their children occupied at home. One of the best ways to do this is to model a child’s school schedule as much as possible at home. While distance learning is real support, parents could consider supplementing e-learning schedules by implementing consistent times for their kids to wake up, go to bed, eat their meals, take breaks, do their chores, and help with household responsibilities. By maintaining a structure and predictability at home, this can not only help manage and mitigate a child’s anxiety but also help alleviate a parent’s burden of planning activities on a day-to-day basis. Families I work within my clinic have also shared incorporating activities, such as including special events into their weekend schedules, such as a “board game and pyjamas party” on Friday nights, or a “Disney movie marathon” complete with popcorn on Sunday afternoons. These ‘special events’ break the monotony of the week and give their families something enjoyable to look forward to.
Reframe the situation
Parents and children are both challenged with the stay-at-home orders, but everything has a silver lining. I advise parents to take the opportunity to reflect on their relationships with their children and adapt aspects of their relationship for the better. To work towards this, I urge parents to picture themselves a year or two in the future. When looking back at this unprecedented period, how would you have liked to spend the extra time you had available with your kids? What would you have wanted to achieve with them? How would you have wanted your relationship with your child to grow? A great place to start could be asking them if there are any activities, games, or projects they would like to engage in together whilst staying at home and allocating specific times during the week to do so.
Know when to reach out for help
Parents should not feel bad or inadequate for seeking support for themselves. This could entail taking some “me time”, or actively scheduling times to turn off the 24-hour news cycle. Practicing meditation would also help.
Further, there are therapists, counsellors, and other helping professionals available online, to offer assistance. It is not an easy task to ‘parent as normal’ at a time like this. With major life changes, parents may feel lost or overwhelmed, but there are professionals out there who can help.
About Brian J. Benjamin, Psy.D.
Dr. Brian Benjamin is a Singaporean clinical psychologist specialising in child and adolescent psychotherapy and psychological assessment. While working with young clients across various practice settings, he also provides psychotherapy to adults and couples.
Brian’s practice is based in the Los Angeles area, U.S. He also provides web-based psychotherapy, parenting consultation, and clinical supervision in Singapore.