Big things are going on. Big things that are terrifying and overwhelming. As adults, when we can't wrap our minds around them, how can we be expected to talk about them with little kids?
But the thing is, little kids notice. They notice when the grown ups they love are distracted or scared or worried.
So... now what?
Try to avoid having the news on around young children right now. Not because they should be hidden from the information but because you know your child best and it can be very helpful for you to be able to regulate the type of information they receive and the rate at which they receive it. That way you can support them as they figure everything out.
Based on your child's age, exposure, and developmental level, decide how deeply you want conversations to go.
Use books and shows created specifically for young children. Today's Parent has a list of picture books here. Even though the library is still closed, many book read-alouds are currently available on YouTube and author sites as a result of the pandemic. Preview the book before you read it with your child so you can anticipate questions they (or you) might have.
Maybe sure you have another adult you can talk to about your own feelings and thoughts. That way, when you talk with your child, you can follow their lead.
If you want to talk to your child about protests and racism or if they are asking questions about the protests and you aren't sure where to start, read this article for tips from pediatricians and other child health experts.
You might need some space to sort through everything. Take that space (even if it's only available after they are in bed). Listen, engage, and do your best to model the conversations and morals you want to see in your children as they grow and begin to shape the world around them.
Sometimes raising human beings feels like a much bigger and more important job than other times. This is one of those crucial times. Let's show them we can do and be better.
I don't know if you sense a theme in these posts yet but this one article's pretty direct: PBS: Parenting During Coronavirus: You Are Enough.
(Spolier alert: it's tre)
NPR recently shared an illustrated guide for taking care of yourself (the author called it "showing up for yourself." An important thing for caretakers of young children to remember right now.
The K-5 Greenbrier social worker, Julie Silva, watched a webinar with Dr. Lisa Damour titled "Managing Stress, Anxiety, and Parenting Under Covid-19."
She shares her notes on her blog here. I've also pasted her notes below to save you a click. Below are a number of key takeaways from the webinar.
Parenting under Covid-19 Pressures
Handling a Meltdown in 9, yes 9, easy steps!
(It hopefully won't take all 9 but they are there if you need them!)
Positive Coping Strategies for All
We as adults must do these things for ourselves in order to protect our children. We can ask ourselves and our children, "What do you need to do to feel better?"
A question was asked about reassuring a child if a parent is a front line worker (or just going out in public). Dr. Damour stressed the importance of honesty and the need to find "the lyrics and the tune." Be honest. For example, "I take every precaution at work because I know it is important for my health." Most importantly, we need to avoid promising what we cannot deliver. That is the lyrics part. For the tune, keep upbeat, positive, and confident. Our children pick up on our subtle messages. As parents, our stress and anxieties can feed children's stress and anxieties.
Thank you, Julie, for sharing!!!
Here is a social story about video chatting (looking at the screen, taking turns talking, etc) that will hopefully be useful for video chatting with extended family and participating in classroom Zoom sessions.
Al's Pal's is a social emotional learning curriculum that is used in many preschool settings. Many of our EC teachers were trained and used to use this program in our classrooms too!
They have created some wonderful videos for children including:
Watch all the videos here
Now that the recommendation is for all people over 2 years old to wear masks when they are in a place where it's possible to come within six feet of other people (grocery store, busy hiking trails, etc), kids might have even more questions.
Here are two simple social stories that can help children understand why we now need to wear masks:
We Wear Masks, a social story by Mike McGovern
Wearing a Mask by Autism Little Learners (great for all young children)
Imagine Neighborhood is a podcast for kids that has been developed to help kids learn about social and emotional skills. It aligns with the Second Step curriculum that is used in some of the AHSD25 elementary schools.
Learn more and listen here: www.imagineneighborhood.org/podcast-1/
If parenting during shelter-in-place feels challenging and isolating, you only have to scroll through a few social media memes to realize that you are not alone. Preschool aged children have intense feelings, no matter the setting. Throw in some stressed out parents, new routines, uncertainty, and a global pandemic and you have a recipe for disaster.
So, how can you help the little ones in your life sort through all these feelings (and maybe help yourself in the meantime too)? Talk about those feelings! ALL THE FEELINGS!
Here is a link to a feelings chart that you can print and use at home. It has a lot of feelings. Feelings can be nuanced. According to Yale's RULER approach, emotions range in pleasantness and intensity levels. Understanding that can actually make taming them a little bit more manageable. It can also help young children appreciate the wide spectrum of emotions even if they are not yet developmentally ready to name them all. But too many options can be overwhelming for some people. If you're going to use a feelings chart at home, do so in a way that is going to be truly useful for your kids. With my 2 and 4 year old, this meant cutting out pictures and arranging them in a way that made more sense to us (we used the RULER approach and arranged them by "energy level" and "pleasantness").
We pick out how we are feeling based on the picture we most relate to and then talk about the different ways to label that feeling. We talk about whether or not we like the way we are feeling. If we don't like it, we talk about things we can do to change how we are feeling.
Which brings me to the next challenge: calming strong feelings. Here is a social story you can use to begin talking about ways to calm strong feelings. Another useful approach is to come up with strategies that can be easily used to calm strong feelings in the moment (like this generic one). My 4-year-old helped me brainstorm a more personalized calming strategy menu for our house last week because we needed it (please excuse the art, time was of the essence)!
Personalized menus or choice boards can come in handy for everyone - especially when they are practiced proactively ahead of time. We earned "stars" for each calming strategy we did (grown ups too! Modeling is so important and, honestly, we all benefitted). At the end of the day, the person with the most stars won! The prize? Picking the song we danced to before bed. Practicing strategies when we are calm makes it easier to remember to use these strategies when we are not calm. If we talk about how we feel both before and after we use the strategies, we become aware of which strategies are most helpful. Plus, when parents are stressed, it's way easier to grab a pre-made list of ways to help your kid calm down then try and come up with a creative list off the top of your head.
The menu we made probably won't last that long. Hopefully we will back into a better routine and we won't need to practice it daily anymore. Or, more likely, we will need to make a new one to spice things up or as the weather gets nicer (please-oh-please let the weather get nicer!). We might find that we need a totally different type of choice board - perhaps a problem solving board for when two kids want the same toy. We might need something different each week. And that's okay. The creation of each menu or choice board is a collaborative effort and invites everyone to think of solutions. Even young children can feel empowered when they are genuinely asked to help solve big problems. And each new board is a chance to talk about feelings and ways to regulate those feelings and that's a win for everyone. Well, for three minutes at least.
The Pyramid Model is an approach that encourages directly teaching social and emotional skills to all children starting in preschool and Early Childhood. These resources were created with the social and emotional needs of young children in mind:
Miss Nicole is the Social Worker for the Early Childhood Program in Arlington Heights, Illinois.