By Jensen, Randy on April 18, 2020.
Parents and children both need a sense of routine to ensure they are coping the best way they can with being at home and isolated during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, says Cyndi Starzyk-Frey, clinical supervisor for counselling, outreach and education at Lethbridge Family Services.
“The best thing for children of all ages, and I would say for adults, too, is routine, consistency and structure,” she confirms. “I think it would help parents to maintain as much as they can a day that mimics during the week what they would be doing for school.
“It doesn’t have to be stressful where every hour is accounted for,” Starzyk-Frey adds, “but write it down, or put it on the fridge, or give the children a piece of paper with ideas when they can have snacks, when they can do some school work online, when they could read, when they could have screen time. It just gives children a little bit of structure to a very out-of-control time.”
Maintaining a sense of normalcy in the home, despite the chain of massive global events around us, will mitigate some of the effects of anxiety, stress and frustration we might be feeling, says Starzyk-Frey.
“This situation is unusual because throughout the world we are all kind of dealing with a sense of grief and loss,” she explains. “I read somewhere that someone said it’s kind of like anticipatory grief where we know there might be more coming, and we don’t quite know how to deal with the fact that life is not the same. So you have caregivers and parents going through that while they are trying to help their children, and it can have quite a lot of changes for people.”
Parents might notice their children acting out this anxiety in different ways, she says.
“I think children are going through a myriad of things, because some of them are probably quite happy school is cancelled right now,” says Starzyk-Frey. “Some of them are probably really anxious and stressed. Depending developmentally on their age, they could be reacting in different ways as well. Parents might see with really young children increased tantrums and defiance, or just some anxiety. Older children might have those feelings as well, but may not show it or may be talking to their friends about how they are feeling.”
And the parents are also not immune to these feelings, she adds, and must make a conscious effort to model good coping methods by being in touch with their own anxieties as well as their children’s.
“Make sure you are connecting,” Starzyk-Frey advises, “and talking to your kids about what they are feeling and what they are doing. Remember, kids are looking at the adults for how to handle this. If the parents are super-stressed and anxious, the kids are going to pick up on that. So it is really important for the adults to take care of themselves as well, and do what they can to model to the children some of the best ways to cope with this.”
Starzyk-Frey also advises parents who may be feeling anxious or stressed to limit their family’s exposure to media coverage and social media information about COVID-19.
“We still need to let children be children, and really limit their exposure to too much of the media,” she confirms. “Know what you need to know, but don’t take it into that catastrophic thinking. We are all in this together, and the best thing to tell people is, ‘You’re not alone.’ There are ways to connect to other people and resources to assist you through this.”
Starzyk-Frey says there are resources available in Lethbridge for parents having difficulty managing their own and their children’s anxieties. She encourages people to take advantage of the help out there if they need to.
“With Lethbridge Family Services it is still business as usual,” she says. “The Family Centre is doing things. Alberta Mental Health children’s team is also offering supports, and there are private practitioners as well that are still available.”
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