By Dr. Joanne Foster
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the course of day-to-day family living—and learning. Parents and children are spending lots of time together in rather constrained conditions. No playdates, park visits, community programs, outings, or social gatherings. However, with all this curtailment, there is nevertheless a bright side. It may be difficult to realize or to accept, but it is nevertheless true.
Although these past several weeks (going on months) have been challenging, it has been an opportunity for parents to create and spend special time at home with their children. A time of reassurances. (Please see my article Reassuring Young Children During the COVID-19 Outbreak in the April 2020 issue of First Time Parent Magazine.) And, a time of question-answering, emotional support, uniquely tailored learning experiences, increased resilience, and strengthen family dynamics.
Going forward, what can parents do to continue to facilitate ways for children to flourish, even when circumstances are challenging? The following are suggestions for parents to consider during this period of unraveling normalcy—to help them continue to weave sturdy and compassionate safety nets, and to create favorable learning experiences for their young children. The points below are organized under three headings:
1) encouraging children’s emotional well-being;
2) supporting children’s learning initiatives; and
3) resources for parents and also for kids.
1) ENCOURAGING CHILDREN’S EMOTIONAL WELL-BEING
“Sometimes kids experience a struggle, for example, during times of transition. By being patient, sensitive to their feelings, and understanding of their behaviors, adults can help them to feel supported and soothed.” ~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 130
Little ones may be feeling confused and vulnerable during this COVID-19 epidemic. They may have emotions that they cannot name or comprehend. Uncertainty can make children uneasy and unable to focus. And, emotions affect how children deal with situations, including adversity or change.
Helping children to understand feelings (their own, and those of others) enables them to be empathic, open-minded, and respectful of other people. It also paves the way for them to be able to concentrate on learning more effectively. However, emotional literacy takes time. Here are some considerations.
Focus on happy times, especially during periods of instability. Think about family, a cozy bed, a wonderful memory, online visits with friends, or creative activities. Encourage children to picture meaningful moments from past celebrations, ongoing connections, and previous experiences.
Keep it relevant. Support children’s desire to learn about their feelings by responding to their questions truthfully but in a manner that is appropriate to the child’s level of understanding. Use familiar words. Be gentle and soft-spoken. Don’t be too long-winded, and, conversely, don’t be too terse. Offer concrete assurances that they are safe and provide answers that cannot be misconstrued. Be ready for follow-up questions.
Mindfulness can be beneficial. It involves being in the moment, the here and now. Ask kids: What do you see? Feel? Smell? Hear? Encourage them to take notice of their immediate surroundings; to breathe in and out deeply and purposefully; and, to stretch.
Parents can share their own feelings (albeit within reason). This is a way to encourage children to talk about theirs. Pick a suitable time and place when kids feel able to communicate.
Help children identify what they’re feeling. For example, kids can point to simple facial pictures on flashcards or on a co-created poster to convey what they may not be able to put into words. Honor those feelings, and soothe the troubling ones by being empathetic.
Be calm. Adults’ body language, tone of voice, and word choice – and the degree of composure or anxiety evidenced—are like cues, and children can pick up on them. Parents who are attentive to their own responses, and get their emotions under control, are better able to assist children with theirs.
2) SUPPORTING CHILDREN’S LEARNING INITIATIVES “Today is a most unusual day because we have never lived it before; we will never live it again; it is the only day we have.” ~ Author William Arthur Ward.
Throughout the coronavirus outbreak—day by day by day—parents are gatekeepers, providers, protectors, and guiding lights. And, as always, teachers. No one can tell parents how to create their own particular home-based learning dynamic for their children (and saying “make the most of this” can sound glib and impersonal). However, it can be beneficial to have some practical ideas.
Creative expression is like a well-spring. Creativity is at the core of inventiveness, problem-solving, and new adventures. Provide plenty of space, time, and opportunity for kids to get creative and messy and to have fun.
Routines matter. It can be very helpful for children to have familiar patterns of activity or structure around which to orient their day. Morning, noon, afternoon, and early evening routines need not be complex, just consistent and flexibly responsive to children’s needs. During times of turbulence, some predictability can anchor how children organize what they need or want to do.
Choice is like a gift of learning. Children enjoy being able to provide input into how their day will unfold. Opportunities for choice may pertain to reading material; the way time is spent, how spaces within the home are organized or allocated, play alternatives, creative outlets, or anything else that enables children to select and sizzle. Encourage them to choose to do something positive, to find ways to be kind and help others, and contribute to the greater good.
Pacing can be flexible. That is, kids can do things as quickly, gradually, or deliberately as might be comfortable for them, enabling them to progress to the next level of learning whenever it occurs. It’s fine to take things more slowly. What’s the rush? This time of COVID-19 is unprecedented; these are not typical days or weeks. Children’s interests and activities can morph into bigger opportunities, creative possibilities, and fulfilling experiences over a longer or leisurely time span.
Playtime is extremely important. Play enables children to create their own fun, to explore their world, and to follow their dreams and desires. Play also underlies intellectual development and provides an experiential base for emotional release, creative expression, collaboration, and independent pursuits.
Reading is a portal to understanding, connectivity with others, and pleasure. There is no limit to the amount of material that can be enjoyed, shared aloud, or pondered quietly. Quiet interludes can be a welcome break, and a means to re-energize, too.
3) RESOURCES “Seek information from multiple sources to facilitate children’s play, exploration, learning, and development.” ~ ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids, p. 126
The first section of this two-part compilation of resources contains links to informative articles. The second section features several activity-based learning websites.
a) Informative Articles:
The following material is related to the afore-mentioned points on supporting children’s emotional well-being, and also their learning initiatives. Many of the resources listed here will lead readers to additional sources of information.
Find out how to help children Cultivate a Love of Reading in the January 2020 issue of First Time Parent Magazine.
Check out Parenting Blogs on Children’s Feelings and Friendships by Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore. For a look at a specific technique to help children identify their feelings, see How to Help Kids Talk about Feelings at Psychology Today.
The Yale Child Study Center and Scholastic Collaborative for Child and Family Resilience created a workbook to help children cope during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s called First Aid for Feelings, and it can be downloaded for free.
“Cultivating Calm Amidst the Storm” by Dr. Nicole Tetreault is one of the best pieces I’ve read on how parents can understand their own feelings, and gain perspective and strength. The article includes practical strategies.
In Parenting a Spirited/Difficult Child in the Time of COVID-19 (accessible at Psychology Today online), Dr. Dona Matthews shares sensible, important tips that apply to parents of all children.
See my many articles at The Creativity Post for information on how to foster children’s creativity. For a piece that’s specific to the coronavirus pandemic, see Nurturing Children’s Creative Wellness During COVID-19.
For more on facilitating children’s learning, read Early Learning Essentials in the
October 2019 issue of First Time Parent Magazine, and Learning: What Parents Need to Know in the November 2090 issue.
The Do Good from Home Challenge is a new and proactive initiative that fosters kindness and creativity among children and families who aspire to help others.
The article Children’s Emotional Well-being: Eight Practical Tips for Parents can be found in The Creativity Post.
Schooling at Home? Here Are the Best Tips from 7 Veteran Homeschoolers is an extremely informative piece that blends helpful suggestions with common sense.
See the 26 A to Z Instagram “info-flashes” at @fosteringkidssuccess
b) Activity-Based Learning Websites:
There are countless online educational websites that share ideas for books, activities, programs, games, and more… There are also live streams, videos, virtual experiences, and “printables” ready to be downloaded. Some sites require membership, others charge a subscription fee for materials (although many of these have been waived for now), and quite a lot offer free resources or samplers as a matter of course. There’s truly an abundance of sites that extend learning opportunities for children from toddlerhood onward! By way of example, here are some sites that parents can explore independently for activity-based resources. This is a start. Poke about to see what might be fitting. Then, let one possibility lead to another…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Joanne Foster’s most recent book is ABCs of Raising Smarter Kids: Hundreds of Ways to Inspire Your Child. Readers can find further information about optimal child development by checking out Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster). Dr. Foster also wrote Bust Your BUTS: Tips for Teens Who Procrastinate (recipient of the Independent Book Publishers’ Association’s 2018 Silver Benjamin Franklin Award), and its predecessor Not Now, Maybe Later: Helping Children Overcome Procrastination. To learn more about these books, and for access to a wide range of articles and links, please go to www.joannefoster.ca.