In this series Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Holly Golden, will provide tips and activities to parents and teachers as they guide students through the changes and big emotions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Helpful Articles for Parents and Teachers
In this article, Holly will share helpful tips for talking with kids about the Coronavirus pandemic, including exactly what to say (and NOT to say) when talking to kids about COVID-19.
In this article, Holly will share simple activities to help kids cope with big feelings that might arise as a result of the pandemic.
In this article, we explore how to help children through the grief process of COVID-19, whether children are grieving the loss of normalcy, the loss of a loved one, or both.
Having everyone home all day every day can be overwhelming no matter how much you adore your family. These tips will help as you cope with everyone being home at once.
Questions and Answers
We are all still navigating the uncharted waters of COVID-19 and quarantine. I wanted to take a moment to thank you for reading and following along with this series. Below I’ve compiled some of the questions and comments we have received during this series and have offered (what I hope are) helpful suggestions.
How do I explain to my child that we can’t visit grandparents right now?
Question: I have a 2-year-old. She really wants to hug and kiss her grandma. We have been driving to grandma’s house to check on her and also FaceTiming her, but my daughter is heartbroken she can’t hug her. I’m so afraid my daughter will become scared of hugging forever. Please give me suggestions.
Answer: It sounds like you have done a great job of explaining the reasons for not being able to see Grandma in person. You have given her the appropriate redirection she needs by FaceTiming and driving to see Grandma from a distance. At the age of 2, your daughter will likely not be able to understand the concept of social distancing. She is going to need constant redirection to the “new normal.” She is going to be watching you very closely to learn how to adjust to this new normal. Continue to pay attention to your facial expressions and tone of voice to provide that comfort and reassurance. For example, get excited about FaceTiming Grandma! At 2, she might not understand these new words and concepts, but she does comprehend your tone of voice and facial expressions. I encourage parents to focus on things they can control, and to recognize what they can’t control. Validate how frustrating it is to not be in control, and sit with that emotion for a while. When we pay attention to what we are feeling, we allow the feeling to pass. If it doesn’t pass, use calm-down techniques like deep-breathing, mindfulness activities, or yoga to reduce discomfort.
For older children who can understand the concept of social distancing, keep in mind that they could be in denial about the situation, which is a common response to grief. I found this Harvard Health Publishing article to be helpful, as it is specific to grandparents.
With regards to your fear of your daughter becoming scared to hug, this is a normal fear to have as a parent. Remember that children are resilient, and they can heal from these situations. We are all struggling with fears of the unknown. My suggestion is to sit with this feeling, and ask yourself, “What is this fear trying to tell me?” When we trust that all emotions are part of a normal, human experience, we destigmatize “negative” emotions. Allow yourself to feel this fear, and tell yourself it’s normal. Sometimes sitting with the feeling is all we need to feel better. If the discomfort of this fear doesn’t fade away, that’s okay. You might need to utilize calm-down techniques to ground and regulate. Deep-breathing and engaging the five senses are my favorite ways to calm down.
My child is so angry and we are butting heads. What can I do?
Question: My daughter and I have been butting heads a lot lately. I have tried to set clear boundaries and rules for school, but she is constantly going against the rules. I don’t understand the anger and drama coming out of my 9-year-old.
Answer: This sounds like a very frustrating situation, and one that several parents can relate to. When you both are calm, I would check in with her about how the new rules for school are affecting her. Is there anything she needs from you or her teachers to adjust to distance learning? She also may need a healthy outlet for anger and frustration. Let her know it’s okay to be angry about school being different; it’s such a frustrating situation, and she may be grieving the loss of normalcy, her friends, her teachers, and more. Her grief could be coming out as anger and refusal to follow these new rules could be a form of denial. When she shows you she’s angry, stay calm and regulated with calm-down techniques. She needs you to be the steady and stable force in her life. Validate the emotions, “I see that you are angry and it’s okay to feel that way,” or, “Thank you for showing me how frustrated you are with this new routine. It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to [fill in the blank: yell, talk back, roll your eyes, lie to me].” Then provide a healthy outlet: “When you feel this way, what does your body want to do instead?” Help her brainstorm ways to expel anger from her body. I don’t want to offer suggestions, because I want it to be her choice. There are great books to help kids with anger. One of my favorites for parents and kids is What To Do When Your Temper Flares by Dawn Huebner.
Pro Tip: I will share that when I am angry, or my clients are angry, I love to throw “snowballs.” I have a basket of cotton snowballs in my office that are so light they can’t do any damage when thrown at a person or on the ground. If you don’t have snowballs, do you have cotton balls? You can throw a cotton ball as hard as possible, and it will not do damage. You can glue several cotton balls together to make your own snowballs. This is one of many options; find an option that works for you and your child.
How do I explain COVID-19 to my students with special needs?
Question: How do I discuss COVID-19 with kids who don’t have a comprehension of what is happening. A lot of my students are nonverbal and may just need reassurance that the people that they are not seeing right now (friends, teachers, etc.) still love them.
Answer: This is so tough, and you’re right, they do need your constant reassurance that they are loved. I love the car parades that teachers have been doing to communicate this to their young students. I love the rainbows on windows that people are creating with construction paper. I love that families are going on scavenger hunts in their neighborhoods to find these window rainbows, or chalk art, or stuffed animals in the windows. These are all ways that we have adjusted to this new normal. Continuing to find creative ways to share the love is such a great way to provide them with that reassurance.
What can I do about my own anxiety and depression?
Question: How do I keep anxiety and depression in check during this pandemic?
Answer: This is an excellent question. If anxiety and depression were already being experienced before the pandemic, then it’s likely those symptoms will intensify during the pandemic. I have been recommending medication to several of my clients who were already struggling with anxiety and depression. This is a time to utilize additional resources and to take excellent care of ourselves. The best way to determine if medication is right for you is to talk to a medical doctor. Primary Care Physicians are a great place to start for referrals and recommendations. They can assess you the same way they would assess a patient with high blood pressure, and help you weigh the benefits and risks of medication. There are also several websites that are specializing in prescribing and monitoring medications for anxiety and depression. A few of the ones I have seen advertised are: Brightside, Lemonaid, and Cerebral. Remember that anxiety and depression are medical diagnoses and treatment is most successful under the supervision of a doctor or licensed professional. If telehealth appointments with a professional are not available to you, there are numerous books to read that are low cost and several free resources on the internet, like YouTube videos, and following therapy accounts on Instagram. Mental health professionals all over the world are increasing the content they share on their social media accounts. This is free content! Find a therapist who specializes in what you are currently going through, and follow them on social media.
Parents and children of essential workers are separated, too. How do we ease that separation?
Question: We are grandparents that watch three grandchildren, ages 8, 5 and 3. When the request came to stay home, the children were in our care and parents still have to work.
On the counsel of my husband’s doctor the children are fine to stay with us, but we are not to take them anywhere and there is no going back and forth between homes. […] We see the stress in the children due to the separation. So far we have “tele-celebrated” two birthdays.
The children love music and movement.
Answer: It sounds like you are doing everything you possibly can during this difficult time. I have been thinking about the families who have been separated due to the quarantine. This is happening all over the world, and it’s so tough. I’m so sorry you’re in this difficult situation. You’re doing the very best that you can. Books like The Invisible String, which I recommended last week, can be helpful during this time. It explains that their parents are always “with” them and connected to them by love.
How do I overcome my own feelings of grief when I have to turn down a child’s hug?
Question: Kinder kiddos don’t understand what is going on, why they can’t come to school, and why I can’t give them a hug. I had to turn down a kid’s hug and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. That’s because the child did not understand, and even though I explained how I wanted to hug him and that I still care, it is to keep us all safe. He was on the verge of tears and I cried all afternoon about this yesterday. Help with that please!!
Answer: What you are feeling is grief, and it’s the appropriate response to this pandemic. I’m so sorry you had to turn down a hug from your kiddo. Remind yourself that you didn’t mean to hurt his feelings by turning down his hug. Nurture the part of you that is hurting, because this situation is so sad.
As a teacher how do I cope with my own sense of loss at the year ending so abruptly?
“There is also a lot of teacher grief… [teachers are] broken-hearted not to finish the year, especially my Pre-K teachers whose kids move on to other schools next year.”
“I wish I would have known on Thursday, March 12th that it would be our last day together in our classroom for the rest of the year. I would have hugged you tighter, I would have said “I love you” a little louder before I sent you out the door to go home. I would have asked for your best jokes one more time.”
“I miss hearing my name 5 million times a day. I miss being asked to go to the bathroom at the most inappropriate times. I miss the silliness. I miss the laughter. I miss my classroom. I miss my kids.”
Answer: To the teachers, what you are feeling is grief, and you are beautifully expressing it with these written words. Don’t stop! Continue to verbalize your sadness, the loss of precious time with your beloved students. Continue to journal about it, share thoughts on teacher’s blogs or social media boards. Read thoughts from other teachers to help normalize the experience. Do an activity to commemorate your grief. For example, make a collage of memories or pictures from the year. This is a great way to process the experience and memorialize the loss. Find ways to show your students that you care about them and are loving them from afar. There is no way we could have predicted this, and all we can do now is mourn the time we lost and show others we care.
By Holly Golden, MA, LMFT, LMHC
Need quick, no-prep activity ideas to help keep kids busy with playful learning during school closures?
We’ve got a free printable you’ll love!
As school districts and teachers work to provide lesson plans and helpful activities during school closures, we want to remind both parents and teachers that much of the magic of early childhood comes from allowing for moments of unstructured play and experiential learning.
As such we do not think preschoolers should be getting required worksheets and homework to do in the event of a school closure. Instead we want to encourage families to take this time to slow down and connect. Find joy in the moments of togetherness and take time to enjoy a slower pace at home.
If you do choose to continue academic activities at home throughout the pandemic, we encourage you to seek playful, low-prep activities that involve everyday learning and inspires family connection.
In this free printable download we’ve provided a collection of activities that are designed to be low-prep and can be done anytime of year.
We hope you find them helpful whether you’re planning for school closures or just looking for some easy go-to activities to do with your preschoolers!
More Activity Ideas for Playful Learning at Home
We also have over 50 playful, easy-prep activities that you can choose from if you need something quick to do on long days at home.
See the Learning at Home archives here.