Seven Ways Parents Can Keep their Children Safe and Informed
The reflection a child sees in their parent’s eyes is who they will become.
While the current worldwide health crisis is challenging us in all areas of life, there is a silver lining: We have the opportunity to spend special time with our children and focus on them in ways we don’t usually get to enjoy. My parenting mentor, Evelyn Longsworth, has a saying that I took to heart many years ago: The reflection a child sees in their parent’s eyes is who they will become.
When we parent with a Theory of 5 mindset, one of the things we know is that we must be honest with our children without putting expectations on them that they’re not yet equipped to handle. As concerned as we might be in this time of coronavirus, our children might be just as anxious. Their world has been turned upside down, and they might be struggling with it more than the adults around them. As parents, it’s vital that we be there for them. We often feel that our job is to protect them from the harsh realities. In the case of COVID-19, however, we’ll do them a disservice, or actively put them in harm’s way, if we’re not factual about the situation.
Here are some ways my mentors and I believe are essential when it comes to our children during these challenging days:
It’s okay to talk about it — Even if they are very young, children often know when something is going on. Older children, of course, are well aware that things are different now. Their school year, in many areas of the country, has ended prematurely. They are told they can’t go over to their friends’ houses, they can’t take part in their usual activities and they don’t know when — and in their minds, if — things are going to get back to normal. Many parents want to shield their children from uncomfortable truths, but the truth is that they are already uncomfortable. It’s okay to talk to them and explain the situation. It’s vital, however, that we calmly present that information. Even if we’re feeling anxious about the state of the world, we must take care not to share that anxiety. If they see that we’re calm, they’ll be calmer.
Be factual, but don’t overwhelm them — When we share information with our children about COVID-19, we shouldn’t hide the facts from them and tell them we shouldn’t worry about it. The older they are, the more they understand that this is something to take very seriously, especially if anyone in our family or group is at heightened risk. With younger children, we must talk to them at the level appropriate for their age and maturity. We don’t have to go into mortality rates; it’s enough for them to know that people are getting sick, and if we stay in, we’ll be less likely to get sick and this will be over sooner than if we don’t.
Tell them how to stay safe — We must share with our children the ways we will stay safe from catching COVID-19, and then make sure we enforce those practices. Washing our hands, maintaining our distance from people outside of our household, wearing masks and gloves when appropriate and other behaviors allow us to maintain a bit of control over a situation that seems very much outside of our control at this moment. A bonus benefit is that we’ll be monitoring our own habits, which is great for everyone involved.
Let them know that things will return to normal — As a society, we’ve not experienced anything like this for generations. As new as it is to us, think of what it must seem like for our children. The weeks ahead may seem to go slowly for us, but they’ll crawl by for kids. Assure our children that things will go back to normal. They’ll go back to school, be their friends, play sports and do all the things they can’t do at the moment. We shouldn’t, however, give them false hope that it’ll be “next week” when we don’t know precisely when this challenging time will be over. Be positive, but be factual.
Let them talk with their friends — Let’s keep in mind that our children have been cut off from their peers. Make sure that they maintain contact with their closest friends. If they are older, that shouldn’t be a problem, but younger children often don’t talk to their friends on the phone or over Facetime. Get with the parents of your children’s friends and figure out ways that they can stay in touch with each other.
Plan a structured day — With school out and many parents working from home, the normal structure of most family’s days are shattered. Building some order into the weekdays will support everyone get through this with a little less stress and a little more productivity. If we find ourselves homeschooling our children, we need to put thought into our lesson plan, even if we’ve never thought we’d be teachers. Find out what they were doing in various subjects when they were still in school, and then go from there. Our children’s teachers will be able to give guidance when it comes to this, so we can feel comfortable contacting them. It’s tempting to let the television babysit them, especially if we’re trying to get work done. Don’t give into this. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so let’s find a way to keep everyone occupied and productive.
Listen to them — Our children might be afraid of what’s going on in the world, but might not be able to form the questions they want answered, especially if they’re smaller. Pay attention to their words and actions, and be there to comfort or inform and comfort them when they need it. If they tell you they’re bored, make it into a discussion about what they could do. If they tell you they’re worried, let them know you are there to protect them. If they miss Grandma and Granddad, put them on the phone or Facetime. Find ways to make sure that they are informed and protected.
Being a parent is a tremendous responsibility, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity. Rather than looking back at this period as a time of uncertainty and fear, we can use this time to create wonderful memories that will last a lifetime for both us and our children. When most of us think back to our own childhood, many of our best memories are of those times when our parents took the time to let us know that we were special and valued. If we put in the effort and time to teach, guide, comfort and simply be there for them when they’re young, we’ll receive the reward of watching them become the happy, productive, amazing people we know they will be.