As parents manage working from home and children switch to homeschooling with e-learning, stress is high. I remember my own little girls after Hurricane Hugo. My four-year-old would not go anywhere without her yellow flashlight and stuffed pink rabbit for weeks…”just in case the wind came back.”
Now, we are dealing again with a natural disaster in the form of the COVID-19 virus. Everyone is on “high alert” and children may already demonstrate symptoms such as fearfulness, sleep disruption, excessive attachment, and behavior changes.
For teachers, parents and nannies dealing with natural disasters, here are a few tips:
1. Keep as much order and routine as possible. While unavoidable, schedule changes significantly impact children who already miss their friends and routines. Keeping a consistent bedtime routine, going to bed on time and having a schedule for each day will help children feel more secure.
2. Be mindful of physiological impacts on children. Children aren’t able to say they feel stress or anxiety. Instead, it will show up in play. They may play hospital or spend more time with toys that give them comfort. Make sure they get a good night sleep and have regular meals, so they don’t have to manage physical needs in addition to emotional stress.
3. Use a gentle tone of voice and avoid loud noises and sudden changes. We are all on edge and calming music and kindness help.
4. Apply strategies such as art therapy, journal writing, stories, sharing, and Bibliotherapy. These tools help children at different ages and support different interests and preferences. While one child may enjoy storytelling, another may want to focus on crafts. For those who enjoy reading, a good book is “Wemberly Worried” by Kevin Henkes.
5. Plan simple events that get children outdoors. Events like hiking or bike riding in the neighborhood allow for social distancing. Being outside has the added benefit of fresh air and sunshine which can help with stress.
6. Limit media. Don’t let the news play on the television as background noise and when with the children, don’t focus on your phone or computer. Make sure you listen attentively with eye contact as the children tell you a story and give them your attention when they ask questions.
7. Avoid talking about things like pandemic, shortages, illness, symptoms, and quarantine in the presence of littles. It is too much. They don’t have the context nor sense of future to put any of it in perspective.
Recovery from natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, and even a pandemic will take time.
Honestly, it will take more time than we may realize. While we can’t control the virus, we can remain open and compassionate with our children. Be prepared to respond in loving and generous ways.
Dr. Karges-Bone is a best-selling author and media influencer who specializes in bringing neuroscience to teachers in a brain friendly, engaging style. She holds two degrees in special education and has been writing about the effects of poverty and trauma on children's brains for over 15 years. She has trained thousands of teachers at the graduate and undergraduate levels and writes frequently for scholarly and popular journals. Her background in special education, use of humor, and real-world experiences with schools and families bring a sense of authenticity and trust to the lecture experience.