“I am so sad,” my four-year-old granddaughter said. Her words made my heart ache as I hugged her. Why are you sad, honey?” I asked, knowing full well why she was so sad. Her little world had been turned upside down by the novel coronavirus. The predictable routine of pre-school, playdates, birthday parties, outings had been replaced by prolonged stays at home and prohibitions against reaching out to other children or adults not in her quarantine circle.
When I talked with my daughter-in-law, Mary Beth Wierman Eastridge, she agreed with me that we could work on a project together to write and illustrate a book for children to help them and their families understand and cope with the virus. We set ourselves an ambitious timeline and were able to complete the project and get it out as a free download: eastridges.com/covid.
I am a Parish Nurse or Faith Community Nurse in my town. As such, I work with all ages, but now that I am a grandmother I have a special interest in children and young people. Working within the faith community during this trying time involves answering questions, guiding people to accurate information, helping parishioners cope with diseases unrelated to COVID-19, praying for them, and listening.
Caring for our littlest ones, even babies, is particularly hard. As families find themselves working from home, or unemployed and at home, children are sometimes caught in the middle of times of high stress. How can we help our kids? What can nurses do to be a resource?
Provide age-appropriate materials.
When our granddaughter asked, “What is a virus?” It was tempting to go into a long, scientific monologue, something that would surely go right over her head and probably not be helpful at all. Instead, by sharing this book with her, we can talk about answers she might understand: “teeny, tiny” and “invisible.” This is challenging in a time when materials are still under development. With the suddenness of onset of this crisis, we all find ourselves looking around for ways to help.
When children ask questions, they often want to know less rather than more. Listen first and zero in on what exactly he/she is asking and then try to answer as clearly and as succinctly as possible.
Keep the routine.
Children often value and thrive on routine. They like to know what to expect. We laugh in normal times when they want to watch the same movie over and over or wear the same favorite sweatshirt. But these childhood characteristics become even more pronounced during times of change, illness and high stress. Anything we can do as nurses to promote a routine, to let kids know what to expect, and to allow for “sameness” will help children who find the ground is shifting under their feet.
Set an example- Children follow and mimic well.
They learn how to cope by watching the people around them cope. A calm adult, who shows competence, can help a child survive the unpredictability of a stormy time. What do you do if you don’t feel calm? Refrain from falling apart in front of the child. While this is easier said than done, don’t underestimate the impact of your attitude on those around you, especially the little ones.
Nutrition and sleep
Children need nourishing foods and good sleep—this much is obvious, so why even point it out? In times of crisis, it is tempting to cut corner and let mealtime go or allow children excessive snacking, less napping and more screen time. Without a doubt, screen time if preferable to screaming time, so if it is a choice between the two, the answer is easy. Setting aside consistent “quiet times” can help with the routine and also give the parent/caregiver some down time to recuperate their own energies. When children feel stressed, they will often react by having “bad dreams” and waking up frequently. While this is normal, it can add to the disruption the family is already experiencing. Reassuring the child and their family that this will pass, can make it more bearable.
Setting boundaries—even if kids don’t like them—makes them feel secure. As nurses, we can help families understand and implement maintainable boundaries. Granted, this is not always possible, but we can encourage others and lead the way.
It is a known fact that kids have a lot more energy than adults do. This can be a particular challenge during a time of quarantine and limited availability of outside play. Some parents are employing creative strategies to help their little ones get out some of their energy in constructive ways. There are dance parties, yoga classes for kids, relay games and a host of other productive ideas.
Watch for abuse
When parents/caregivers are under stress and kids are acting out, we see a possible set-up for abuse. As nurses, let’s be particularly alert to the possibility of abuse and try to intervene before it happens.
COVID-19 has brought nurses again to the forefront of the national battle for health. We are on the frontlines in so many ways, including with our own families.
What ideas do you have for helping kids cope during this time of COVID-19?
Free Download Conquering COVID-19