How to communicate and keep your family strong

It’s a difficult time for everyone, but parents and caregivers are experiencing an added stress test. For a few weeks now, families have been dealing with the unprecedented COVID-19 situation as offices and schools have shut down to prevent the spread of the virus. Between trying to navigate changes at home, the onslaught of information, and uncertainty around the future, kids and parents are both feeling the impact of this new reality.

Coronavirus—and the quarantine it’s imposed—is not a simple concept. As adults, we’re trying to wrap our heads around what COVID-19 means for us, while trying to help our kids cope at the same time. This balancing act is stressful for all of us, which makes it more important than ever for us to take care of ourselves so that we can provide the best care for those around us. Taking the time to process feelings, connect with others, and get any support we need is an important part of the journey. And going back to the basics of getting adequate sleep, eating well, and taking in some fresh air (or a few deep inhales) helps too.

Once we have a handle on that, we’ll be in a better position to respond to our children’s feelings and questions, which are likely evolving as quickly as the situation around us. They may still be wondering why they can’t see their friends at school, go to hockey practice or celebrate birthdays. They still may not understand; they may be frightened. Children are intuitive and they know when something is wrong, but they are also very resilient. So keep these tips on hand to help children deal with this situation and come out of it stronger.

Tips to help kids cope with COVID-19:

  • Keep them in a routine to manage their mental health around the new shift in their schedule: Routine and rhythm give children a sense of safety and security. Without school, sports, or clubs, we need to create structure and predictability in other areas of their lives. This will look different for every family, but the idea is to create some normalcy and security where there might not be any otherwise. One great tip is to encourage kids to get some exercise every day—this will release any pent-up energy and get those endorphins flowing, making them feel happier and healthier overall.
  • Stay keenly attuned to the feelings children are experiencing: Feelings can change at any given time, so it’s important to regularly check in. Some kids are more vocal than others, so this will help you pick up on the early signs of anxiety or stress, which may be non-verbal. Learn how to recognize them here.
  • Validate children’s feelings: Acknowledge that it’s hard to not see their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins or friends, but also emphasize—in an age-appropriate way—that it’s important to stay at home now so that more people don’t get sick. Show that you care and understand, and normalize their feelings. While you’re are not sure how long this will last, it is temporary and everyone is helping by staying home together.
  • Be aware of tone and body language: When dealing with upsetting matters, stay calm and keep your body language warm and reassuring. Offer a hug or a comforting touch on the arm. Children will often mirror your actions and tone. They might not comprehend the seriousness of the situation, or they might feel anxious and scared about it, but this will give them confidence that you are doing your best to take care of your family.
  • Be ready to communicate often: Know that you may need to have multiple and ongoing conversations with kids. Some messages are worth repeating, so be prepared to address the questions they have with consistent information that is appropriate for their age.

Above all, take the time to strengthen your bond with your child and make them feel safe. You are their ultimate source of information and guidance, so let them know that they can come to you at any time for support. Don’t forget to have some fun while you’re at it with these at-home activities from The City of Calgary. Bad feelings and bad situations will pass, but your relationship will stay strong and enduring.

If you need any help with your mental health, or you have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, please contact 211 to be connected to services and supports in your area.

You can also download a free guide to support children and youth with their mental health.