Child drawing with crayons

University of Hull psychologists advice on how to support your children during COVID-19 crisis

A child psychologist and lecturer at the University of Hull has provided a series of top tips on how to support children during the current Coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Angel Urbina-Garcia, a lecturer in early childhood in the School of Education, spoke about the challenges of adapting to homeworking, and having to support their children during these unprecedented times.

Dr. Urbina-Garcia, a chartered psychologist in the UK (BPS), a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the British Psychological Society, said: “For those trying to balance work commitments with home-schooling their children, the challenges are significant.

“In addition to the problem of getting children to give online learning the focus it needs, many parents may be wondering how to handle the current situation and to how to talk to their kids, to reassure them in these stressful times.

“Of course, all parents want to help their children to avoid the feelings of fear, loneliness or even helplessness that they may be experiencing.”

Angel Urbina-Garcia

Dr. Urbina-Garcia has composed a list of tips to help parents support children during COVID-19.

Don’t panic - recognise your own emotions

News around the current situation may trigger a number of feelings such as loneliness, helplessness, fear, stress or anxiety in adults. This is entirely normal.

Firstly, recognise the range of emotions you are experiencing at the moment. It is OK to experience these emotions in situations like this, however psychological studies have revealed that children can feel angry, sad or scared when mum or dad is stressed,

Adults’ emotions can be transmitted through everyday interaction; hence, you need to identify how you are feeling in order to manage your own emotions to help your child manage his/hers.

Children will also experience these emotions and it is important that you recognise how your children are feeling. One of the key aspects in this situation is the need to validate your child’s emotions.

Tell your child that it is OK to feel scared or lonely, but more importantly, that you are there to support them and listen to them. Also, consider that children learn by observing, hence, this is an opportunity for you to model how to manage your emotions and self-regulate your behaviour.

Observe changes in your child’s behaviour

Children just like adults, change their behaviour when facing stressful situations like this one. As a parent, it is important to keep an eye on even slight changes in your child’s behaviour.

Some children may not be hungry, sleep more than normal, seem more irritable, be more active than usual, some may not be able to sleep or simply are not in the mood to have conversations. These are expected changes in your child’s behaviour, but the important issue here, is that you recognise such changes and become an active listener and a supportive and affectionate parent. 

Talk to your child about how he/she is feeling and do not be afraid to discuss the Coronavirus. Changes in behaviour are deeply rooted in the information a child has obtained about the current situation which could come from school, friends, relatives, social media or TV.

Children are trying to make sense of the situation regardless of their age. Instead of letting your child create their own version of the situation, engage in a warm conversation and explore what your child is thinking and how he/she is perceiving the situation.

Talk to your child and reassure him/her that this is just temporary and explain the situation to your child considering his/her developmental stage and age. You may also want to limit consumption of news.

Keep routines in place

Young children need a clear structure in their lives and this is why parents need to state, from the early years, when children can play, got to school, have a family dinner or go to bed.

During the current situation, it is important to keep the normal routine at home. However, having said this, in this situation you can also be flexible and make a few changes to the routine. The key issue here is that you must involve your child in the new activities.

The family can organise an activity where all members decide what new activities can be carried out during the day. Let children propose activities which can involve all family members. This will make them feel important and that they are a valued as members of the family.

Keep a positive attitude

Facing this type of situations usually triggers something that psychologists call, catastrophic thinking. This is to say, we tend to see everything negative because we feel threatened. While this could be seen as “normal”, you must try to change this and employ positive thinking. 

When we have catastrophic thoughts, our immune system gets weak, but the opposite is also true. Studies show that positive thinking strengthens our immune system. Reassure your child by telling him/her that this is just a temporary situation.

Try to show your child the positive side of this – that of spending more family time together, cooking or playing board games together etc. Make your child realise that you can do a lot of fun things at home.

Be creative, exercise and you may even want to give a go to practicing mindfulness with your children – which many psychological studies reveal, helps reduce levels of anxiety and stress.

Stay in touch virtually

Self-isolation means that no physical contact should take place, however this does not mean that you must stop all your interactions with friends, colleagues or relatives. In fact, studies reveal that social support is the best way to cope with stressful situations.

You are a human being too who also needs support! Use social media to communicate with your loved ones to share what activities you are doing at home. Organise chats or even video-conferences involving your children.

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