Caregivers/parents can help children develop coping behaviors during a time of high stress by modeling how to create positive social relationships--even during a time of social-distancing. You can also demonstrate how to build strong values based on your own modeled behavior. How do you respond to stress? Are you taking a deep breath before reacting? Are you moderating a balance between news overload and need to know? Has the family routines leveled out to something predictable? The answers to these questions can be insightful lessons to ponder.
It can be challenging to communicate with young children during stressful time, however, consider the following tips.
o Promote pro-social activities for the child to learn to engage with other children. If virtual, use Facetime or What's App.
o Provide opportunities for the child to develop positive attitudes and behaviors. Discuss children's books (see ebooks) or movies that demonstrate positive behaviors.
o Encourage the child to discuss his/her feelings and be sure to address any feelings of being different or having low self-esteem.
o Maintain routines such as attending school (virtual or home school activities) and performing homework so children feel normalcy.
o Children with incarcerated parents might be judged as being different or negatively by peers and possibly other adults. Such experiences may be the child’s first exposure to shame and latter stigma. During a time such as the national pandemic, children may feel the weight of all of their losses --including school pals. Be sensitive and reassuring.
o Be honest. Children may eventually learn what is going on in the house/world/their lives; even the best intentions can result in complex and fractured relationships, later in life.
o Be mindful of the burden of information like parental incarceration. Being truthful is best. However, use age appropriate language.
o Prepare your child for this discussion to the extent possible.
o Empower the child to make choices. Life can feel hopeless and children may feel at fault and blame themselves for a parent’s incarceration. Letting children make some decisions can give them a sense of empowerment.