By Shirley Weston
When it was announced that schools were closing – there was a mixture of emotions – some joy and relief maybe, some resignation, some initial shock. But for one group of children, the events of the last few weeks have been met with a considerable amount of panic and fear. Calls to Childline have apparently rocketed with a peak number of counselling sessions required following the announcement of school closures on March 18th.
Other children may not have demonstrated these more extreme reactions but , talking to people it appears that isolation from friends, lack of structure, lack of physical activity and confinement with the same people may be leading to various kinds of stress, arguments, boredom, irritability and low motivation.
Inevitably this has had an effect on the rest of the family. A number of parents have essentially gone into survival mode to try to cope with the situation which may continue for several weeks, dare I say months!
What advice is available?
Parents and carers, if you are needing some support during this time then these two articles may be helpful and I encourage you to read them:
Of course, I am aware that I am not a parent and therefore don’t have direct experience, but I have tried to put together some ideas and advice by reading articles and talking to a number of families.
The written, online advice at the moment seems to be suggesting key factors at this time are:
It is important to provide some kind of structure to each day with fun planned activities. Try to ensure children are starting the day at the same time and going to bed at a normal school time.
Allow children time to express their fears and anxieties, be open about what’s happening and give appropriate information. Set regular times to talk to them individually or together and respond to their emotions as they are expressed during the day in different ways.
Model (if possible) a good calm attitude in the midst of what’s happening and stay positive. But also, be honest about some of the things you are feeling and don’t be hard on yourself when it doesn’t go well!
Suggestion for Family Activities
- Contribute positively
Encouraging children to be part of the solution to the problem can be an important part of helping them to think and act positively.
‘The research from natural disasters suggests that involving vulnerable children in family and community responses to potential danger increases resilience, protects against development of helplessness and may help mitigate against post-traumatic effects’ (Mental health Grace Alliance)
This may include:
- Writing cards to elderly people or people on their own
- Planning and cooking meals for people in the home
- Writing positive messages to display in the windows
My 9 -year-old niece has found a place (a plastic container under a tree) where she can leave cards and gifts for her friends who live in the flats nearby to find when they have their turn to play in the area. This has been a great source of motivation for her and given her a sense of purpose.
- Sports and games
- Set different physical challenges for the children for each day. How many times can they run around the garden? For how long can they stand on one leg? How quickly can they roll across the lawn?
- Try some new games – hopscotch, scavenger hunt (find something shiny/ round/ a feather/ three different shaped leaves etc.), tug of war, hide and seek. One of the girls I was in touch with told me how her mum had been teaching her a game that she used to play as a child in Pakistan!
- Encourage the children to plan their own workout for the rest of the family to join in, or to organise a game or quiz.
- Positive communication
- Communicate about a common interest with a friend – my 6-year-old nephew does ‘nature club’ with his friend over skype. They talk about something of interest that they have found in the garden!
- Communicate regularly with remote family members – allow the children to share pictures or models that they have made and play games remotely. Again, depending on the age of the child, have them organise the game!
- Crafts and hobbies
There are many things they can do but here are a few:
- Writing and drawing things in chalk on the paving slabs
- Giving children an area of garden to work on
- Baking cakes – trying out new recipes
- What can you do with scraps of material or things lying around the home? A junk modelling challenge is fun and easy to organise.
- Encouraging children to take photos and create a gallery on the wall.
- Researching the songs and names of birds and trying to identify them.
- Making a cardboard box TV – create characters that they can stage or present (craft puppets can be made for this game too)
A time to draw closer to God..
Bring God into the situation – He knows what’s going on, He is faithful and loving and good. Be honest about your own fears but model giving them over to God: God knows what is happening. He is not surprised and He doesn’t want us to be afraid. In fact, the Bible tells us 365 times that we don’t need to be afraid. That’s enough times to read one per day for an entire year!
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Encourage the children to pray. Have them write down the names of people that they want to pray for – you could display them on post-it notes or on a big poster.
This may also be a unique time to read the Bible together – encourage the children to learn verses. There are lots of ways of doing this. For example:
- Write down a Bible verse with one word on different pieces of paper. Stick them up on the wall/fridge. Encourage the children to look at the verse. Gradually remove the different words until they have learnt the whole thing.
- Set Bible verses to music or get the children to come up with some actions to go with them.
There are some great online resources for children’s ministry
You are not alone…
In conclusion, it is not unusual to feel overwhelmed at a time like this and if you children are feeling overanxious, irritable, demotivated etc. be aware that you are definitely not alone in having to deal with this. Please reach out to others within the church and outside of it, seek help and ask for prayer. Connect with your small group, share with other parents and if you have input and ideas please do share anything that has helped you.