Creating calm for children in uncertain times

Opinion: Columns

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Cicely Johnson, Kristen Keleher & Angie Kaufman

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As the world spins in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, our daily lives have altered in previously unimaginable ways. Cancelled events and flights, remote learning in schools, and closed businesses are now the norm. If we're feeling anxious, it's likely our children are, too. How can we minimize their anxiety amid such uncertainty?

At Thrive Counseling Center, we've assembled a list of practical tips to help you and your children remain calm and comfortable in your home. By adopting a realistic but healthy response to uncertainty, and providing an outlet for stress, you can help build coping skills in your children that endure well beyond the current challenge. 

 Always actively listen to any concerns your children express. Acknowledgment and empathy reassure kids that they have been heard and that their feelings matter. 

 Maintain routines as much as possible, especially for young children. Consistent meal times, sleep schedules, and playground visits or other regular activities communicate a sense of normalcy for children. 

 Strive to remain calm and rational yourself. Kids watch adults for cues for how they should behave and what they should feel. If you can manage your stress by taking deep breaths, walking outside, or practicing meditation, for example, you'll be better able to project a calm, practical attitude that will reassure your children. 

 Actively promote basic health hygiene in a fun way. Try making handwashing fun by turning it into a game. Sing happy birthday or the ABCs while scrubbing away. These engaging practices not only help limit the spread of disease, but they help give us a sense of control over a chaotic situation. 

 Laugh, play, and enjoy outdoor activities as much as possible. Humans often seek comfort by connecting with others. Make your time together fun and meaningful. After a good meal, bring out a board game or watch a favorite movie. Get outside — a simple walk can be remarkably uplifting. 

We hope these ideas prove useful to you and your family during the coming days and weeks. Fortunately, to date children who have been exposed to the virus have experienced only mild symptoms. If you or a family member are symptomatic or you believe you have been directly exposed to COVID-19, however, follow the Center for Disease Control's guidelines for seeking medical assistance or call the Illinois Department of Public Health's Coronavirus Hotline at 800-889-3931.

 Cicely Johnson, Kristen Keleher, and Angie Kaufman are senior therapists at Thrive Counseling Center in Oak Park.

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