There has been no doubt that the threat posed by COVID-19 is and has been frightening, unnerving and an unexpected time for many, not least of these our children. With lockdown, came a certain degree of social isolation and many questions.
Troubling statistics show that children are developing serious mental health conditions, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with social isolation and lack of healthcare and food playing major factors. It is important, now, to focus on the children’s wellbeing over and above any more formative development as this underpins how children will respond and adapt to the experiences they have had and how society as a whole will be affected by the fear, grief and loss that people have experienced.
Though there has been an increase in social isolation from the ‘outside world’, there will no doubt be positive to come from the connection between family during this time. These experiences are not something we could have predicted but are priceless and the life skills that children will have been developing from being at home invaluable.
Social connection is fundamental to our well-being and its power cannot be under-estimated. It is what builds children’s sense of self, their co-operation skills, their fostering of trust in and respect for others. This is one of the many reasons it has been wonderful to welcome back so many children into nursery over the past weeks. The children have shown an unexpected resilience that is a consistent reminder that we cannot underestimate them!
Within the nursery, we have been working on ways to talk about COVID-19 that are not too big or scary for the children, including using stories and videos, such as the ones listed below. Consistency and routine is important, and we have tried, where possible, to keep this across all aspects of the nursery, whilst ensuring we are following the government guidelines, which were key to the development of our Standard Operating Procedures during this time.
We have also been prioritising work, particularly with the older children, on identifying their feelings and emotions to promote that understanding and resilience. This is fundamental to our Accelerated Rising Stars programme that will be running during July and August for those children who will be heading off to school in September 2020. By identifying emotions, children are better equipped to understand and manage their own feelings, as well as to interpret other people’s emotions. This will be particularly important as children start school with new people and faces, and having the skills to be able to communicate what they are feeling will make it easier for caregivers to be able to support and comfort them better.
Here are some ways that you can support your child’s understanding of feelings and emotions at home from The Anxiety Relief Project:
You can help your child to identify different emotion cues and their causes by role-playing. After making a disgust face you can ask your child, “can you guess what I am feeling?” Then take turns making different emotion faces, followed by a discussion of what things might make people feel that way.
You can help your child build a vocabulary of emotions by recognizing and utilizing opportunities throughout the day to identify and label what they may be feeling. For example, you may say to your child: “How are you feeling right now? I know you liked petting the puppy but now we have to give it back and you look sad. Are you feeling sad?” The more you label emotions and the situations that give rise to them, the easier it will be for your children to do the same.
Ask your children about emotions that they or others might be feeling. In this way, you provide an opportunity for them to identify, label and express emotions. For example, you might ask, “I heard Reggie couldn’t go to play at the park today because he is sick. How do you think Reggie feels?”
Help your child come up with appropriate ways of expressing and handling their emotions. You can do this by brainstorming strategies your child can use the next time they feel a certain way. For example, you may say, “Remember when you got so frustrated when you couldn’t put on your helmet, and remember how you threw it across the room? Next time you can ask for my help or count to 30 and then try again. Can you think of other things you could do?”.
Encourage your child to express their emotion. You can praise them when they express emotion in appropriate ways and make sure to point out the ways in which they did so. For example, you might say, “I know you were mad when you lost. But, I love how you told us and took some big deep breaths instead of knocking over the game board.”
Use tools such as cartoons, photos, books, and videos to talk to your child about emotions. The next time you are watching TV together, point out characters that feel different emotions, label the emotion the character feels, and discuss the reason for the emotion. Talk about the different facial expressions of the characters. You can also draw similarities to your child’s own life by pointing out times when they felt and behaved that way. For example, you might say, “Look how happy Dora is that she just got a brand-new bike! Do you see her big smile? Remember when you got your new toy? You were so happy too!”