Covid-19 has hit hard and people are scared, really scared.
Panic buying, lockdowns, self isolation, desperation, mass hysteria, school closures, and waves of future under certainty represent some of the words to describe the onset of Covid-19.
What has this new epidemic shown us?
FEAR ON STEROIDS.
Fear is an essential part of our human makeup. It protects us, keeps us alert, and can also drive us to reach unprecedented heights. But it can also cloud, cripple, and consume us when it is magnified.
The onset of Covid-19 has produced varying degrees of fear amongst people - and that’s perfectly normal. Fear cannot be avoided, only managed. What can be avoided is distress, panic, and hysteria.
So if you are a parent or an educator, what can you do to help your child manage stress and anxiety, build resilience, and to successfully navigate through these uncertain times?
Here are 5 anxiety alleviating tips to support children to conquer Covid-19 and maintain a positive wellbeing:
1. Create Calm
“Great leaders create calm from chaos”
(Rowdy Mclean - Leadership Expert)
Children need positive role models, and during these uncertain times, parents and educators are called to step up and be the leaders that children need to bring calm, clarity, and control.
Children learn from example - the behaviours they see, rather than the words they hear. What example are you setting amid fear and uncertainty?
Fear is contagious, and so is calm. By responding to stress and uncertainty with calm, children will see resilience, not panic, in action - which is more powerful than the spoken word - and the greatest way they can learn.
Here are 3 ways that can instil calm in children:
1. OPEN COMMUNICATION
Talking to children is essential to facilitate understanding, and provide reassurance that they are safe. Whether it’s a one on one conversation, amongst friends, in an open assembly or on social media, it’s very easy as adults to get caught out using overly exaggerated and negative language.
Acknowledge Covid-19 as a present day challenge, but avoid using words that amplify fear and overwhelm, such as catastrophic, damaging, terrible. There is enough of that rippling through the media.
On the other hand, oblivion and denial doesn’t help. Reminding children of good hygiene practices (e.g. keep clean, hands away from face, avoid people who are coughing) acknowledges the threat without overestimating the danger through fear breeding language.
Words that redirect attention to the bright side never go to waste.
2. DEEP DEEP BREATHING
Setting a few minutes aside every day, multiple times throughout the day restores mental calm and alleviates overwhelm.
For educators, it could be taking a time out midway through class - and rallying all students to get involved. Create a game out of it.
For parents, perhaps it can be at the breakfast table before the start of each day.
Make it practical. Make it fun. Make it regular.
Meditation is essential for mental stability. Deliberately redirecting the mind to focus on the present moment, restores perspective, helping children direct energy to the things they can control, rather than worrying about the things they cannot control. Mediation restores peace and perspective.
For both parents and educators, it is best to show children how meditation is done, because if you just tell them, chances are they will forget or get distracted and won’t do it, or won’t know how to effectively practice it. Whether it’s through fictional story telling visualisation in the classroom, using a smartphone application, or prayer, showing rather than telling is extremely powerful.
2. Digital Detox
“Sometimes you just have to unplug from everything
to find yourself again”
While social media is an important part of young people’s lives, there are too many reminders of the current climate that only intensify fear. Disconnection from social media not only avoids unnecessary information being received (with the risk of being misinterpreted), but also allows room for children to gain deeper connection with self and others.
Suggest a 30 day ‘digital detox’ challenge. By getting their buy-in, they become empowered to take personal responsibility for their own wellbeing. Make it fun, and do it with them. Communicate the benefits, by sharing the stories of other children who have taken a break from social media (plenty of stories online). Track each other’s progress. With smartphones today, this can be easily monitored. If there is resistance to a complete detox, suggest limiting usage to once or twice a week.
In the absence of social media, more time will be created for other activities so suggest a new 30 day “offline” goal (non school related) to be set that will challenge them, stretch them and give them a sense of purpose in the midst of uncertainty. For example, writing a new song, learning a new skill, improving on existing skills, starting a campaign etc.
In addition, ask them to write a list of “offline” activities they can engage in while they are off social media that can give them an idea of what’s possible without social media rather than hanging on to the expectation of being “bored” without social media.
3. Random Acts of Kindness
“Try be a rainbow in someone else's cloud”
Magic happens when we shift our attention from ourselves to others. There isn’t a better time than right now.
Children build empathy and compassion when helping others, releasing endorphins, that in turn, counter stress and anxiety. This starts with educators and parents modelling and reinforcing this, and promoting a ‘WE’ instead of ‘I’ culture at school and at home.
Examples include sending positive messages to others (a “thinking of you” text, pastime photo memory, inspirational quote, funny video), charity work, sharing limited resources, spending time with someone who appears lonely, and being considerate and of service to others.
4. Cultivate Creativity
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”
Fear and creativity cannot coexist. It’s a great time to use the current climate as a platform to teach children how to be solution orientated. This promotes creativity and builds courage, so when life throws challenges at them in the future, they’re equipped with a champion’s mindset, in that there is a solution to every problem, rather than dwelling on the problem and being a victim of circumstances.
For example, if you are a parent, it may be as simple as showing your child that you’re unfazed by the potential scarcity of toilet paper because the next option would be to use kleenex tissues. If schools are closed, give them the freedom to create a schedule for alternate ways to continue learning.
Engage and involve them in the process - and rest assured that you will be surprised and enlightened by the suggestions they make. This builds their leadership skills.
5. Amplify the Good
“The struggle ends when gratitude begins”
(Neale Donald Walsh)
In times of challenge, humans tend to automatically focus on the bad and forget the good. It’s easy to be positive when life is going smooth sailing, but it’s during times of adversity where redirecting the focus to love, gratitude and hope and encouraging children to do the same, in spite of, becomes critical, otherwise the bad will be brought to life by default. Again, the example needs to be set.
In such a climate, amplifying appreciation requires daily deliberate effort and rewiring.
For educators, you could go around the room before starting your lesson and ask a few students to share one thing they are grateful for. If possible, take students into a natural setting and invite them to reflect through journaling their thoughts and experiences, and to also visualise their future through dream building and goal setting, amplifying hope.
For parents, starting a family ritual where before eating dinner each day, each member shares three things they are grateful for that day. This not only amplifies appreciation but also builds a stronger family connection, amplifying love. Encourage children to verbally or electronically express their gratitude to teachers who are working hard to ensure their education continues in spite of Covid-19, fostering positive relationships and building stronger school unity.
Despite the overly exaggerated media reports painting a doom and gloom picture, no storm lasts forever, and this too shall pass.
To conclude, I'll leave you with the inspiring words of the late Pope John Paul II:
"Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams.
Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential.
Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in,
but with what it is still possible for you to do."
A special message to thank all educators that have gone above and beyond to support students through Covid-19.
YOU ARE THE REAL HEROES.
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Daniel Merza is a student wellbeing and leadership specialist, award-winning international speaker, and author.