How to Help Kids Manage Big Changes and Uncertainty
Children feel safest with predictability, structure, and stability. Change, especially sudden and drastic change, feels scary. Yet as the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized, we can’t shield our children from the curveballs that life throws. What we can do is help kids manage big changes and uncertainty, ultimately becoming more resilient.
Tips to Help Kids Manage Big Changes During COVID-19
Some of the following tips will help kids manage big changes of any kind, while the others address challenges unique to the ongoing pandemic, such as staying active and connected while isolated.
Take time to address your child’s questions and concerns with empathy. Sometimes, simply talking about their fears with an understanding, empathetic adult makes a powerful difference for children.
Whatever your child wants to discuss, acknowledge and validate their feelings. Let them know that what they’re feeling is completely normal and acceptable, without trying to dismiss their concerns or distract them from their worries.
Say something like, “You feel nervous and worried when you don’t know what to expect. It makes sense that you would feel that way; so do I and a lot of other people right now. Let’s take some deep breaths together. This is hard, but we can handle it.” For more tips, read this post on helping children manage anxiety about COVID-19.
Difficult feelings like fear and anxiety sometimes show up in challenging behaviors. If your child is acting out, keep in mind that their behavior may be communicating a call for help. It’s possible that what your child needs most is empathy, reassurance, and help managing their big feelings about big changes.
Talk About Other Big Changes
If your child is feeling overwhelmed, talk about other life changes they have successfully navigated. Ask your child about other changes that felt scary or confusing at first. These changes might include moving, starting at a new school, welcoming a new addition to the family, joining a new team, etc.
Start an open conversation about the pros and cons of these changes, what your child learned from each experience, and how they managed to get through them. What skills has your child acquired from working through other big changes? How can they apply similar skills to the changes happening now?
These changes may not compare to the magnitude of the pandemic, but they will help put the current situation in perspective. Explain that each time your child has experienced a big change, they’ve managed to get through it. In the process, they’ve learned valuable skills that help them become stronger, more resilient, and more prepared for similar circumstances in the future. You will get through this together, just like you always do.
Keep Some Routines the Same
I’ve mentioned this tip before, but it can’t be overstated in a time of such upheaval and uncertainty. As much as possible, keep your child’s routines the same. Consistency and stability create a calming sense of normalcy.
In particular, wake-up and bedtime routines should stay relatively consistent. Even if your child is attending school virtually, for example, help them get up, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and get dressed the way they would normally. Aim to wake up and go to bed at around the same times every day.
If you normally eat family meals at the table, continue eating family meals at the table when possible. If your child typically does their homework at a certain time and place, keep the time and place consistent.
Of course, we all need to be flexible and adaptable right now. And you certainly shouldn’t be hard on yourself if your home is less organized and more chaotic than usual. Simply do the best you can to include structure and predictable routines whenever and wherever you can.
Offer Connection and Play
When a child feels stressed, their instinct is to seek comfort from an attachment figure. Since children may currently feel higher levels of stress more often than usual, now is a great time to build more connection and play into your child’s day.
Ideas for increasing connection include:
- Give more hugs.
- Ask about their day. Stay fully present in the conversation, and consider creating a ritual, like sharing a snack and talking about your days each afternoon.
- Read a bedtime story and/or create your own bedtime ritual.
- Find a shared interest that you can bond over, or spend more time engaging in a hobby or interest that you already share.
- Go on walks or jogs around the neighborhood together.
Playing with your child is another excellent way to connect and de-stress. It’s especially beneficial if you allow your child to take the lead, showing that you value their ideas and are interested in joining in their favorite games. Playfulness, eye contact, physical touch, and presence are key elements of connection, so incorporate them as much as possible.
You don’t need to do anything fancy to connect more with your child. Even 5-10 minutes of fully present connection a few times a day makes a big difference. Your child will feel reassured that no matter what else changes, your love and care remain the same. You are a consistent source of comfort and stability.
Help Kids Stay Connected with Friends
Children also need connection with their friends. Having the support of family, friends, and community reduces stress and makes people healthier both physically and mentally. Like many of the other suggestions on this list, staying in touch with friends also provides a sense of normalcy that can help kids manage big changes.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it has been challenging to maintain a thriving social life. Here are some ideas for socially distanced playdates:
- Keep in touch via phone calls and video chats.
- Host a dance party on a video call, or even outside with families and children standing in their own driveways.
- Play games like Charades or Pictionary on a video call, or play video games or educational games together online.
- Watch movies through a streaming service. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and others offer “watch parties” that allow people in separate homes to enjoy their favorite movies together.
- Mail letters to friends. It may seem old-fashioned, but having a pen pal can be lots of fun!
- Just as some adults have “happy hour” over a video call, your child can share snack time or lunch with a friend.
- Read stories together over video chat.
Communicating via technology can’t completely capture the experience of in-person connection. Still, you have plenty of options to make socially distanced playdates creative and fun.
Help Kids Stay Active
Staying active reduces negative mood, stress, depression, and anxiety. Plus, it helps ward off the “stir crazy” feeling caused by spending so much time at home.
Sunshine is another mood booster, so make time for outdoor play as often as possible. Play tag, catch, soccer, or any other physical activity your child enjoys. Go for walks with your dog, walk or jog around the neighborhood, or set up races or obstacle courses for your children.
Options for staying active indoors include dance parties and exercise or yoga videos for children. However you and your child choose to get active, it’ll help keep their spirits up and stay positive amidst big life changes.
We don’t have a magical solution for the changes we’re all experiencing right now, but we can use these strategies to help kids manage big changes and uncertainty more smoothly. Emphasize empathy, routines, connection, and play, and you’ll maintain a healthy sense of normalcy and security for your children.