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Fifteen Considerations and Strategies When Caring for Kids and Teens during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Welcome to the role you never asked for but now must fill! Most of us are certainly not trained teachers; nevertheless, we ARE all caregivers who can guide our children through various problems in their daily lives during this crazy time. We will encounter a myriad of tests by being thrust into this new role day in and day out with little to no breaks. But I believe you are all capable of managing your kids at home during the quarantine because you all became parents and none of us knew what we were doing with our first kids anyway! We can say to ourselves: "I GOT this" even when we feel like we are floundering and failing. We can also access a multitude of resources to get through this very difficult time together. As a child psychologist, I thought of fifteen considerations and strategies to help you navigate caring for kids and teens during the Covid-19 quarantine. Every kid has unique needs at different ages. I've mostly geared this list towards school-age children and teenagers although younger kids can also be helped by some of the subsequent techniques.

1) Establish a daily routine to maintain a sense of normalcy:
Please make sure all daily needs are met in a structured way to maintain normalcy, Here are some of the daily essentials:
A. Keeping a bedtime routine and morning routine similar to that of school. For teens, if the sleep time and wake up times are later, try to make the wake up time by 10 to avoid teen "jet lag." (I.e., changing sleep and wake up times dramatically from one day to the next can make teens especially susceptible to experiencing a feeling similar to jet lag)
B. Eating lunch and snacks during regular school day hours.
C. Taking baths/showers at their normal times.
D. Going outside for recess or budgeting exercise time in the day.
E. The perfect time for potty training or moving from the crib to the big kid bed for toddlers because we have plenty of time to assist in these transitions.

2. Respect your kids' and teens' range of emotions during this historic time:

A. Feels like living in a bomb shelter: Our kids may liken this experience to feeling like living in a bomb shelter. I've also heard about how reading Anne Frank's Diary can also be helpful right now. Please respect how incredibly difficult this is for young minds to grasp the concept of why we need social distancing - it's heartbreaking for our kids. As adults, most of us never lived through something remotely like this as kids. Luckily, we have access to outdoors and often times, a variety of creature comforts, including electronics, social media, household appliances, and hot/cold water.

B. Ultimate sibling rivalry: Our kids will likely bicker at times because they are overwhelmed by their new reality. This time is so tough because our kids don't have many coping skills to deal with such a drastic shift to their everyday existence. Many of them cannot directly express their feelings because they don't yet have the language to do so; therefore, they will not overtly share their worries about things such as, being out of school for an extended period of time or their fears about someone they love getting sick. Use conflict resolution to help:
- Separate the kiddos for breaks if they can't get along,
- Talk to each one individually about their side of the story
- Help the kids talk together in hopes that they might apologize. Or move on even if it means agreeing to disagree on whatever the issue was. If it's a bigger ongoing issue, it'll need to be discussed further with what your values and expectations are for behavior. Appropriate disciplining for the age might be necessary (time outs for younger kids, removal of preferred items for short duration for older kids).

C. Big feelings: We all have big feelings about what's currently going on. It's natural and understandable. To begin to calm down your child, allow them to have their big feelings because they feel so out-of-control right now. Acknowledge your tantruming child by saying, "wow that's a big feeling you're having right now" or acknowledge your teen by saying, "I see you are really angry/worried/frustrated right now."

3. Empathy beyond expectation is truly important:

A. We all thrive on being accepted and feeling validated. Therefore, hearing our kids' feelings and reflecting back to them that we understand how they are feeling or that we want to understand how they are feeling even if we don't completely understand it, can be quite effective in calming them down. Try to see things from your child's perspective right now.

B. Use reflective listening: For example, say things like: "I hear you saying you miss school. I honestly don't know what that must feel like because I never went through this as a kid but it must be so difficult to not be able to be with your friends and teachers and having your regular school days. I'm hoping this will change and unknowns are hard. We will have more information soon ok?" Here's a tutorial on reflective listening: https://youtu.be/NhJYNUYNH-Y

C. What if my child doesn't talk about feelings? Some kids won't talk about the crisis and will become upset over things like a toy breaking or not being able to have their favorite food for the umpteenth meal in a row. You can say something like: "I know it's really upsetting when your toy breaks all of a sudden. It might feel like it'll never be fixed or cannot be replaced. I understand how disappointing this must be. Do you trust that we can come up with a solution to make it better?" Or "I know you love pizza. I do too! How much do you love pizza. Would you marry pizza if you could? I understand that this is your very favorite meal and something you look forward to. We can absolutely have pizza again very soon but I made lasagna tonight. Could you try it and we can come up with a plan for the next time you get to have pizza?" Please note that some children, especially those with special needs will not be able to tolerate a change in their dietary routine and this should be honored. Part of understanding beyond expectation is knowing when your child cannot manage to be pushed to change something in their routine at this time. It can take professionals months to shape behavioral changes, such as trying a new food so please don't beat yourself up if you can't get your kid to try lasagna while in the middle of a quarantine!

4. Maintain a United Front:

A. Two caregiver homes: If you are in a two-caregiver home, then please maintain a united front for your children. Make sure to have your discussions in private so the house stays relatively calm. Kids are smart and if they see you both fighting, they will consciously or subconsciously drive a wedge in between you to get their way.

B. Single caregiver homes: If you are a single caregiver, I commend you on your strength and resilience. Please encourage your children to be more understanding towards you as you are managing them with barely any breaks.

C. Be a solid foundation for your kids: Caregivers should try to be a solid foundation for children during this time. Show them you are strong and capable of helping them get through this and tell them they are strong as well. If you are losing patience, please try to step away. After a blow up, say something to your child like "I know I lost my patience and I'm sorry I yelled. This is a stressful time for all of us but it's very helpful when you listen to me the first time I ask you to do something. Can you be my helper when I'm getting frustrated? I don't want to yell." With teens after a blow up, you might need to give them some space, and ask them what would be helpful for them when you lose your patience.

5. Prepare them for the Quarantine to be Longer than anticipated:

A. Length of quarantine: Plant seeds about school being closed for more than two weeks.
B. Prepare them: Say things like, "if it is longer than two weeks, we will find many cool things to do and this will eventually end." FaceTime friends and family, write cards or emails to elderly people or pen pals. Have them see friendly faces on FaceTime from school and extracurricular activities. When my 9 year old saw Ross singing favorite songs from Sunday school, it was very comforting for her. Hopefully your school is moving towards a remote learning platform if it's not already in place to help kids have that renewed sense of community with same-age peers and their teachers.

6. Lean on others for support if possible:
A. Additional caregiver support: Have a sitter or family member help if you are doing this alone. You really will need back up even if it's only possible to get it once in a while.

B. Remote support: Have back up support call your kids on FaceTime or phone calls to reinforce your expectations in the house or to talk through a problem with another supportive adult.

C. Therapist support: Many therapists are available to meet during this time using online platforms. They can creatively counsel you and your children over video conferencing and can be an excellent resource. Go to psychology today, call the back of your insurance card, or look on facebook parenting groups to find highly recommended therapists.

7. Age-appropriate control over their environment:
A. Explain what age-appropriate control means to your kids: Kids have control over certain things but they don't have control over other things. They have control over what they wear, what they eat to a certain degree, doing schoolwork, etc. They do not have control over the weather or illness so let adults and government handle fixing this problem with the Covid-19. Knowing the difference and focusing on daily ways they can be in charge of certain things in their life will help your children feel better.
- For example: Ask your child to pick three things they can be in charge of on a daily basis, like getting themselves dressed, picking one meal or snack choice, or choosing to do math before writing.

B. Worrried about the economy: If kids are worried about the economy, they can do things like gather items for a food drive or clothing drive or sell some things on eBay to give the money to a charitable cause. They can also learn basics about managing their own money in a responsible manner and figuring out which things they can give up to help the family's financial situation during this crisis. Focus on basics like taking a shorter shower, turning off the water when they brush their teeth, or turning out a light every time they leave a room to conserve energy and money.

C. Here's a good resource especially for caregivers with young children: https://asimplekindofmom.com/…/end-the-power-struggles-by-…/

 For older kids, I like the three buckets of control analogy even though this is for business, it's very easy to adapt it for teens to understand: https://www.cp-journal.com/three-buckets-control/ 

8. Education on Covid-19:
A. Keep it brief and age-appropriate when talking to your kids:

- . K-4th grade kids can hear some details about Covid-19 but keep it light and positive.
- 5-8th grade kids can hear more details about Covid-19 but monitor internet and news access.
- 9-12th grade kids can often have full internet access and see everything. Keep lines of communication open to help field difficult questions. Try to limit too much internet surfing of Covid-19 as it can be quite anxiety-provoking.

9. Adapt education plans to fit your household:
A. Education plans can be fluid or strict: Please recognize that we have been thrust into this role as educational coaches without much direction. You owe it to yourself to create a plan that works for your own household. You might drive yourself batty trying to do something that just won't work for you, especially if you're a caregiver who is working from home while simultaneously asked to educate your child. We cannot be everything to everyone and some things will have to give.

B. Your education plan will depend on the types of kids in your household and the access you have to educational resources: If you get too much push back with being very structured, I'd suggest creating an additional free time frame after a work period. You can even do regular breaks in between short learning activities as needed to maintain motivation and as long as you get compliance on the work.

C. Use of cool down methods if frustration arises during learning: I would encourage using cool down methods if your child is getting frustrated like deep breathing, drawing, fidgets, showers, going for a walk, weighted blankets, bubbles, meditation/mindfulness apps or the 54321 (I.e., a ground technique-find 5 things you can see in the room, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste).

D. Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset: Help your kids recognize that when learning they can have a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. For example, if your child is struggling with a math problem, help the child to look at this as an opportunity to challenge him/herself. Good YouTube video about the topic: https://youtu.be/M1CHPnZfFmU

 A book is listed at the end for more information.

E. School refusal/school work avoidance: If you continue to get resistance for doing school work, here are a few suggestions:
Access the teacher if possible: If you have a teacher who is teaching remotely, let your child talk to them during their office hours. Children will tend to respond to their teachers with more compliance because they are used to them being in this role. Also kids tend to be more willing to comply with school rules because they have their peers watching and helping regulate one another's behaviors. We do not have that at home except for siblings following each other's examples.

F. Use discipline techniques sparingly: Only use discipline for blatant disrespect (spitting or cursing) or safety issues (running out into the street without asking or throwing a chair in the house). You can absolutely be firm in expecting your child to do homework sheets or comply with the learning plan set up for them by the school but sometimes it may not be worth it right now if your child just will not engage in the activities.

G. Alternative Educational pursuits: If your child refuses to do any work, you may need to NOT engage in power struggles and try your best to create some less structured learning experiences. This is a highly stressful time and some kids will take a very very long time to adjust to this change. Their executive functioning skills (like transitioning from one experience to another) aren't fully developed yet. Foster social skills for example using the Superflex curriculum at home. Resource listed at the bottom of this article.

10. Self compassion/self care:

A. Step Away: Step away if you are losing your patience. Please tell your child that you will talk to them again to help solve the problem after everyone is calmed down.

B. Your reactivity affects their reactivity: This is easier said than done but take that breather because no one can scream through solving a problem your child is having and it will only escalate. Remember your power as a caregiver is in staying calm, firm, and detached if they are melting down. It will eventually pass and sometimes we have to let go of our end of the rope if we are in a tug of war with our kids. Sometimes it can take a long time to soothe a child after a meltdown but do what you can to mirror their feelings and keep them safe during meltdown. It will dissipate eventually.

C. Caring for yourself: Take those small moments to do something for yourself and you are modeling self-care. Tell the kids you are running that bath for yourself because you will be a better mommy and remind them that they can do things for themselves as well that help them feel better.

11. Combatting boredom:

A. A bored kid is an opportunity for creativity: Your kids will be bored sometimes or even a lot. When we were growing up before all of these electronics and all of the instant gratification, we found creative ways to combat boredom. Our children will be able to survive lulls in being entertained without electronics or iPad and might actually benefit from being bored! https://images.app.goo.gl/sog2kqoAitnRBW2cA

B. Have an activities list handy: Have a list of easy, quick activities that your kids can access themselves and you can refer to if they need ideas. Even younger kids could get this concept with a piece of paper showing pictures of their favorite activities. Make a bigger list of activities the kids can have on their bucket list, such as baking favorite recipes, creating cool science projects, reading or writing a book, making arts and crafts activities, making obstacle courses, or going exploring outside. Explain that their bucket list allows them to have things to look forward to while we have to stay at home.

12. Teach perspective taking:

A. Focus on little deals, medium deals, and big deals: Help your kids to understand the differences between little deals, medium deals, and big deals. Our kids are majorly stressing about missing out on LIFE.

- Little deals: A small problem that can easily be fixed. Right now, if your brother takes your toy car to just mess with you because he's bored, that's a little deal. You can easily get over it.

- Medium deals: A situation that causes some problems but isn't the end of the world. For example, things like if you broke your mom's vase throwing a ball after being told not to throw balls in the house.

- Big deals: A situation that will greatly impact you. For example, someone you love getting very sick or even dying.
We treat little deals like big deals and it causes a lot of unnecessary stress and we can get over these things with a better mindset.

13. Careful not to overwhelm your kids with too much right now:

A. Watch out for flooding your kids with too much information: Kids and even adults can become overwhelmed when bombarded by too much information all at once about intense topics, such as them hearing your phone calls or "adult business" conversations about the Covid-19.

B. Monitor your child's online interactions: kids could be talking or potentially spreading rumors about the Covid-19 and not all children will share upsetting things that happen with their peers.

C. Anything can become a flooding experience: I've probably flooded you with this list! Please take it in small doses. I am sharing tons of information I have learned over many years of helping kids. Just look at one or two relevant things and work on those with your kids.

D. Lecturing our kids: We will lose our kids if we talk AT them for too long about our family expectations, thoughts on the crisis, etc. Watch for the glazed over look or hearing "uh uh yea ok." They aren't listening. Wait for a teachable moment to help guide them to make a better choice when they've had some time to cool down.

14. Watch out for the cycle of shame:
A. I keep getting in trouble: If kids feel they are making lots of mistakes and getting no positive feedback, they will get to the "I don't care" phase where you essentially have a shut down, overwhelmed kid. The cycle of shame will also lead to more acting out. At this point, the child needs to be "soothed, seen, secure, safe." Look at Dan Siegel's No Drama Discipline book to learn more about the 4 S's to help your child's brain development. No life lessons will be learned or problem solving will be done until their brain and body calm down.

B. Trouble self-regulating: Kids often do not know what they need to feel better but they can be taught over time to get better at this. Kids generally cannot calm themselves down like adults can with a run or something without being guided. You can help teach them these things through mindfulness practice apps or yoga. For example, during a yoga exercise with a child, have the child focus on noticing body sensations and see how one's breath slows, one's shoulders are softer, less tense etc.

15. Positive Feedback/Positive Reward Charts:

A. Rewards chart: At school, kids are often motivated by reward charts to help shape positive behaviors. It is always useful to have a Reward chart for expected behaviors at home - chores, respectful communication, schoolwork completion, etc. You can put marbles or cotton balls in a container. Once the child fills the container to the line, they can earn a small reward. If necessary, you can sparingly take away a cotton ball for blatant disrespect or safety issues. Figure out what your kid finds rewarding- time with you playing a game? Money? Earning cotton balls towards gift? Extra screen or tv by 15-30 min increments?

B. Positive specific praise: Also it is always useful to provide positive specific praise (I.e. caught being good). For example- "Jane, I was so proud of you when I saw you use a cool down technique instead of pushing your little sister when she was constantly bugging you." Try to give 5 positive phrases for every one negative phrase to avoid negativity in the household.

Resources:
Useful Online Apps/websites:
Mightier app
Adventure Classroom
Calm app
Relaxation melodies app
https://www.socialthinking.com/Articles…

Useful articles:
https://positivepsychology.com/growth-mindset-vs-fixed-min…/

https://www.additudemag.com/how-to-deal-with-an-explosive-…/  

Useful books:
Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You
Book by Julie Morgenstern
Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership with Your Child by Ross W. Greene
No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind Paperback by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Superflex… A Superhero Social Thinking Curriculum Package (two-book set)
By Stephanie Madrigal and Michelle Garcia Winner


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