12 Ways to explain COVID-19 pandemic to your kids

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Children have been described as young humans who are “under a legally specified age, and considered not to be legally responsible for their actions.”

The outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, however, has upturned family life around the world.

As a parent or guardian, you have the ultimate responsibility to explain in clear terms to these young minds what is really going on around them, for their overall wellbeing.

Among other socio-economic and psychological implications  of the Coronavirus outbreak on individuals, families, groups and businesses globally, are school closures, working remotely, physical distancing, and a whole lot for many parents to navigate.

The United Nation’s Children Fund (UNICEF) has teamed up with the Parenting for Lifelong Health initiative to bring parents and caregivers worldwide a set of handy tips to help manage this new (temporary) normal.

1. Talking about COVID-19

Be willing to talk. Children will already have heard something. Silence and secrets do not protect our children.

Honesty and openness do. Think about how much they will understand. You know them best.

i.Be open and listen. Allow your child to talk freely. Ask them open questions and find out how much they already know.

ii.Be honest. Always answer their inquisitive questions truthfully. Think about how old your child is and how much they can understand.

iii. Be supportive. Your children may be scared or confused. Give them space to share how they are feeling about what is going on around them, and let them know you are there for them.

iii. It is okay not to know the answers. It is fine to say “We don’t know, but we are working on it; or we don’t know, but we think.” Use this as an opportunity to learn something new with your children!

  1. Heroes not bullies. Explain that COVID-19 has nothing to do with the way someone looks, where they are from, or what language they speak.

Tell your child that we can be compassionate to people who are sick and those who are caring for them.

Look for stories of people who are working to stop the outbreak and are caring for sick people, especially the frontline health personnel.

  1. There are a lot of stories going around. Some may not be true. Use trustworthy sites such as UNICEF, World Health Organisation, Ministry of Health, and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) if you are resident in the country.
  2. End on a good note. Check to see if your children are okay. Remind them that you care and that they can they can talk to you anytime. Then, do something fun together!

2. One-to-one time during COVID-19

Can’t go to work? Schools closed? Worried about money? It is normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed.

School shutdown is also a chance to make better relationships with our children and teenagers. Having one-to-one time with them is free and fun.

It makes children feel loved and secure, and shows them that they are important.

  1. Set aside time to spend with each child. It can be for just 20 minutes, or longer – it’s up to us. It can be at the same time each day so children or teenagers can look forward to it.
  2. Ask your child what they would like to do. Choosing builds their self-confidence. If they want to do something that isn’t okay with physical distancing, then this is a chance to talk with them about this.

Ideas with your baby/toddler

Copy their facial expression and sounds.

Sing songs; make music with pots and spoons.

Stack cups or blocks.

Tell a story, read a book or share pictures.

Ideas with your young child

Read a book or look at pictures.

Make drawings with crayons or pencils.

Dance to music or sing songs!

Do a chore together – make cleaning and cooking a game

Help with school work.

Ideas with your teenager

Talk about something they like: sports, music, celebrities, friends.

Cook a favourite meal together.

Exercise together to their favourite music.

Listen to them, look at them. Give them your full attention. Have fun!

3. Keeping it positive during Coronavirus outbreak

It’s hard to feel positive when our kids or teenagers are driving us crazy. We often end up saying “Stop doing that!”

But children are much more likely to do what we ask if we give them positive instructions and lots of praise for what they do right.

  1. Say the behaviour you want to see. Use positive words when telling your child what to do; like “Please put your clothes away” (instead of “Don’t make a mess”).
  2. It’s all in the delivery. Shouting at your child will just make you and them more stressed and angrier. Get your child’s attention by using their name. Speak in a calm voice.
  3. Praise your child when they are behaving well. Try praising your child or teenager for something they have done well. They may not show it, but you’ll see them doing that good thing again. It will also reassure them that you notice and care.

iii. Get real. Can your child actually do what you are asking him/her? It is very hard for a child to keep quiet inside for a whole day but maybe they can keep quiet for 15 minutes while you are on a call.

  1. Help your teen stay connected. Teens especially need to be able to communicate with their friends. Help your teen connect through social media and other safe distancing ways. This is something you can do together, too!

4. Get structured

COVID-19 has taken away our daily work, home and school routines. This is hard for children, teenagers and for you. Making new routines can help.

  1. Create a flexible but consistent daily routine. Make a schedule for you and your children that have time for structured activities as well as free time. This can help children feel more secure and better behaved.

Children or teenagers can help plan the routine for the day – like making a school timetable. Children will follow this better if they help to make it.

Include exercise in each day – this helps with stress and kids with lots of energy at home.

  1. Teach your child about keeping safe distances. If it is all right in your country, get children outside.

You can also write letters and draw pictures to share with people. Put them up outside your home for others to see!

You can reassure your child by talking about how you are keeping safe.

Listen to their suggestions and take them seriously.

Make handwashing and hygiene fun

Make a 20-second song for washing hands. Add actions!

Give children points and praise for regular handwashing.

Make a game to see how few times we can touch our faces with a reward for the least number of touches (you can count for each other).

You are a model for your child’s behaviour

If you practice keeping safe distances and hygiene yourself, and treat others with compassion, especially those who are sick or vulnerable – your children and teenagers will learn from you.

At the end of each day, take a minute to think about the day. Tell your child about one positive or fun thing they did. Praise yourself for what you did well today. You are a star!

5. Learning through play

Millions of children face school closure and isolation in their own home. This tip is about learning through play – something that can be fun for all ages!

As regards plays, there are so many different types of play that can be both fun and educational.

Language, numbers, objects, drama and music games give children opportunities to explore and express themselves in a safe and fun way.

6. Keeping children safe online during COVID-19

Children and teens are now spending a lot more time online. Being connected helps them reduce the impact of COVID-19 and encourage them to continue with their lives…but it also presents risks and dangers.

Online risks

Adults targeting children for sexual purposes on social media, gaming, and messaging platforms.

Harmful content – violence, misogyny, xenophobia, inciting suicide and self-harm, misinformation, etc.

Teens sharing personal information and sexual photos or videos of themselves.

  1. Cyberbullying from peers and strangers.

Tech fixes to protect your children online

Set up parental controls.

Turn on SafeSearch on your browser.

Set up strict privacy settings on online apps and games.

Cover webcams when not in use.

  1. Create healthy and safe online habits

Involve your child or teen in creating family tech agreements about healthy device use.

Create device-free spaces and times in your house (eating, sleeping, and playing, schoolwork).

Help your children learn how to keep personal information private, especially from strangers – some people are not who they say they are!

Remind your children that what goes online stays online (messages, photos, and videos).

iii. Spend time with your child or teen online

Explore websites, social media, games, and apps together.

Talk to your teen on how to report inappropriate content.

Common Sense Media has great advice for apps, games and entertainment for different ages.

  1. Keep your children safe with open communication

Tell your children that if they experience something online that makes them feel upset, uncomfortable, or scared, they can talk to you and you will not get mad or punish them.

Be alert to signs of distress. Notice if your child is being withdrawn, upset, secretive, or obsessed with online activities.

Create trusting relationships and open communication through positive support and encouragement.

Note that every child is unique and may use different ways to communicate. Take time to adjust your message for your child’s needs.

For example, children with learning disabilities, may require information in simple format.

7. Maintain family harmony at home.

When we model peaceful and loving relationships, our children feel more secure and loved.

Positive language, active listening and empathy help maintain a peaceful and happy family environment during these stressful times.

  1. We are models for our kids. How we talk and behave in front of others is a big influence on how they behave too!

Try to talk kindly to everyone in the family, adults and children.

Bad communication between adults in the household can have a negative impact on our children.

The more we practice modelling peaceful, loving relationships for our children the more secure and loved they will feel.

  1. Use positive language. It works! Tell others what you want them to do instead of what you don’t want them to do: Instead of “Stop shouting,” try “Please speak more quietly”.

Praise makes others feel appreciated and good about themselves. Simple words like, “Thank you for clearing the dinner,” or “Thank you for watching the baby” can make a big difference.

iii. Nice things to do together as a family. Let each family member take turns to choose a whole-family activity each day.

Find ways to spend quality time with your partner and other adults in your home, too!

  1. Be an empathetic active listener. Listen to others when they are talking with you.

Be open and show them that you hear what they are saying.

It can help to even summarise what you have heard before responding: “What I hear you saying is….”

  1. Share the load. Looking after children and other family members is difficult, but it’s much easier when responsibilities are shared.

Try to share household chores, childcare, and other tasks equally among family members.

Create a schedule for time “on” and time “off” with other adults in your household.

It is okay to ask for help when you are feeling tired or stressed, so that you can take a break.

  1. Feeling stressed or angry?

Give yourself a 10-second pause. Breathe in and out slowly five times. Then try to respond in a calmer way. Millions of parents say this helps – a lot!

Call a truce when you can see arguments building up, and go into another room or outside if you can.

8. Keep calm and manage stress from COVID-19

This is a stressful time. Take care of yourself, so you can support your children.

  1. You are not alone. Millions of people have the same fears as us. Find someone who you can talk to about how you are feeling. Listen to them. Avoid social media that makes you feel panicked.
  2. Take a break

We all need a break sometimes. When your children are asleep, do something fun or relaxing for yourself. Make a list of healthy activities that you like to do. You deserve it!

  1. Listen to your kids. Be open and listen to your children. Your children will look to you for support and reassurance.

Listen to your children when they share how they are feeling. Accept how they feel and give them comfort.

iii. Take a pause. Here’s a one-minute relaxation activity that you can do whenever you are feeling stressed or worried.

Find a comfortable sitting position, your feet flat on the floor, your hands resting in your lap. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable.

9. Bad behaviour

All children misbehave. It is normal when children are tired, hungry, afraid, or learning independence. And they can drive us crazy when stuck at home.

  1. Redirect. Catch bad behaviour early and redirect your kids’ attention from a bad to a good behaviour.

Stop it before it starts! When they start to get restless, you can distract with something interesting or fun: “Come, let’s play a game together!”

  1. Take a pause. Feel like screaming? Give yourself a 10-second pause. Breathe in and out slowly five times. Then try to respond in a calmer way. Millions of parents say this helps – a lot!

iii. Use consequences. Consequences help teach our children responsibility for what they do. They also allow discipline that is controlled. This is more effective than hitting or shouting.

Give your child a choice to follow your instruction before giving them the consequence.

Try to stay calm when giving the consequence.

Make sure you can follow through with the consequence. For example, taking away a teenager’s phone for a week is hard to enforce. Taking it away for one hour is more realistic.

Once the consequence is over, give your child a chance to do something good, and praise them for it.

One-to-one time, praise for being good, and consistent routines will reduce bad behaviour.

Give your children and teens simple jobs with responsibilities. Just make sure it is something they are able to do. And praise them when they do it!

10. When we get angry

We love our children and teenagers, but the stresses of COVID-19, money and lockdown can make us angry. Here is how we can maintain control and manage our anger so we do not hurt others.

Brain science shows if you control your anger or do something positive you increase your child’s brain development. That’s real success!

  1. Stop the river at the source. The same things usually make us get stressed and angry every time.

What makes you angry? When does it happen? How do you normally react?

Prevent it from starting. If it happens when you are tired, get some sleep or rest. If it’s hunger, try to be sure you can eat. If it’s feeling alone, ask someone for support.

Look after yourself. Check the “take a pause” and “managing stress” tips for ideas.

  1. Take a break. When you start feeling angry, take a 20-second cool down. Breathe in and out slowly 5 times before you speak or move.

Go somewhere else for 10 minutes to regain control of your emotions. If you have safe outdoor space, go outside.

If it’s a baby that won’t stop crying, it’s OK to leave them safely on their back and walk away for a bit. Call someone to calm you down. Check on them every 5-10 minutes.

iii. Take care of yourself. We all need to connect. Talk to friends, family, and other support networks every day.

Cut back on drinking or don’t drink, especially when the kids are awake.

Do you have weapons or things that can be used to hit others? Lock them up, hide them or take them out of the home.

If it’s not safe for them at home it is okay for children to go out to get help or stay somewhere else for a while.

Note that the COVID-19 crisis isn’t forever – we just have to get through it now…one day at a time.

11. Family budget in times of financial stress

Millions are stressed about money because of COVID-19. It can make us feel exhausted, angry, and distracted.

Children or teenagers asking for things can cause arguments. But we can do things that help cope with financial stress.

You can involve children and teens in making a family budget

A budget is how we decide what we will spend our money on, even in stressful times.

Making a budget together helps children understand that we all need to make hard decisions in difficult times.

It also helps families to have enough at the end of the month and borrow less.

  1. What do we spend now? Get a piece of paper (or old newspaper or a cardboard box) and a pen.

Draw pictures of all the things that you and your family spend money on each month.

Write next to each picture how much each thing costs.

Add up how much money you have each month to spend.

  1. Talk about needs and wants. Needs: Which things are important or must have for your family to survive? (such as food, soap to wash hands, needs for family members with an illness or disability)

Wants: Which things are nice to have but not essential?

Discuss with your children what things you could try to spend less on.

iii. Build your own budget. Find a bag of stones or anything with lots of pieces. This is your money for the month.

As a family, decide what you will spend on what, and put the stones on your picture.

If you can save even a tiny amount for the future, or for another emergency – it is great!

Find out if there is help you can get

Your government may be giving money, or food parcels to families during COVID-19.

Ask about whether places in your community are giving support.

12. Handling parenting in crowded homes and communities

Keeping your family healthy and safe from COVID-19 can feel even harder when you live in crowded conditions. But there are things you can do to make this easier for your family.

  1. Stay where you are. Limit those leaving and returning to your immediate living space to as few and as infrequent as possible.

Only leave your household or area for essential reasons like getting food or medical attention.

  1. Help your children with physical distancing. Explain to your children that they have an important job of keeping themselves and their community healthy by temporarily physically distancing from others.

Show them extra positive attention when they make an effort to practice safe physical distancing from others.

  1. Make handwashing and hygiene fun! It might be hard to find soap and water, but practicing good hygiene is more important now than ever.

Try to wash all family members’ hands as often as possible.

Let children teach each other how to wash their hands.

Encourage children to avoid touching their face.

  1. Share the load. Looking after children and other family members is difficult in cramped spaces, but it’s much easier when responsibilities are shared.

Try to share household chores, childcare, and other tasks equally among family members.

Create a schedule for time “on” and time “off” with other adults in your household.

It is okay to ask for help when you are feeling tired or stressed, so that you can take a break.

  1. Exercise daily. Encourage children to think of activities they can do to exercise while avoiding contact with people who do not live already in your immediate space.

Jumping activities, dancing or running in circles can be fun!

So, keeping positive, having a routine, and trying to find some one-to-one time with each child when you can will help you manage your child behaviours and your feelings during the stress of Coronavirus pandemic.

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