Some Kids are Handling These Unexpected School Closures Well. Others, Not so Much
To say that we are in a unique situation right now is a serious understatement. Although we keep telling our kids there is no reason to panic, things are anything but “business as usual” around here.
We hope this article can offer you some food for thought about how to meet the needs of your family (and you!) during this unique time of staying home to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
If our kids were our exact clones and had the same personalities, interests, and social needs as us, we wouldn’t have this conversation. But they do not.
So what do you do when you’re an introvert with an extroverted kid who’s dying without their friends? How do you help a kid with anxiety cope with all their fears right now? What about special needs kids who thrive on routine, when their routine was just thrown out the window?
COVID-19 Resources – Table of Contents
Helping the Busy, Extrovert Kid Stay Social and Active
As a mom of two teenagers, this is my current world. The most important things in their lives right now are friends, sports, and school. Guess what we have none of right now? ALL of those things.
The struggle is real. For kids (and adults) who love to be around others, being stuck at home with a small handful of the same people can feel like the ultimate punishment. Here are some ways to meet the needs of your extroverted child (or spouse!):
Physical Activity | This is helpful for everyone right now, but especially for people whose motors run at a higher speed. Take a walk around the block, do a workout video at home, run up and down the stairs- whatever it takes!
Use technology to stay connected | We normally have pretty strict limits when it comes to technology, but we have had to lighten up a little to allow our kids to stay connected to their friends.
Facetime, google hangouts, Zoom meetings and texting have all helped them keep in touch with their friends. I recently heard you can even participate in a Netflix Party where you can watch online with a group of friends and utilize a chat feature during the watch.
Keep busy! | Having a schedule written out is the best way to ensure your extroverted kiddo has enough to keep him or her busy throughout the day. Have your kid help create the schedule to ensure buy-in. A written schedule can also prevent your very talkative kiddo from asking you a thousand times, “now what are we going to do?” (As long as you can retrain yourself to say, “look at your schedule!”) For people whose minds are always racing, having a visual reference of the day can help them feel more organized and slow things down.
Introverts Have Needs Right Now, Too!
I have heard many people joke around about how being quarantined is a gift for introverts! And while this transition might be easier for people who enjoy peace and quiet and alone time, there are still some challenges. Here are some suggestions for how to help your introverted kid:
Help them create balance. | Allow for alone time, but insist on some togetherness, too. For those of you who are home with your kids during this time, this is a great opportunity for some extra family time. As discussed in the extrovert section above, have your kiddo help create a daily schedule so he or she can see when they can have alone time and when they will be expected to participate with the family.
Don’t force them to entertain the extroverts all day. | The only introverts having a great time right now are the ones who don’t live with extroverts. Oftentimes, the quiet introverted kid is forced into constant interaction with the extroverted family members. “Play a game! Now watch this funny video with me! Now listen to me talk to you about something for 10 minutes straight!” These kids need space to recharge.
Keep some routine. | We haven’t gone over the top with our structure, but our family did establish some non-negotiables that need to happen every day such as waking up by 10:00 (remember- they are teens), eating breakfast as soon as you wake up, taking a shower, brushing your teeth, picking up your room, reading for at least 1 hour, and going to bed by 10:00. It’s especially helpful for introverts to know what’s expected of them and when.
Encourage communication. | Introverted kids may not be big talkers; they might need some encouragement to communicate with others. Make sure they have a sketchbook or journal where they can write or draw. Consider setting up a notebook where you write back and forth to each other. Encourage them to draw pictures, write letters, or make cards to send to friends and family members.
Meeting the Needs of the Anxious Kids
For kids who are already anxious, this situation has the potential to add a great deal of fear and worry. Here are some things that can help your kids who are already wound pretty tight:
Limit their access to news and technology. | I am a big proponent of keeping kids informed, but keep it simple and age appropriate. Anxious kids can unintentionally turn small things into big things. Don’t have the news on during the day, don’t allow them to hole up in their bedrooms searching the internet for coronavirus news. Consider your audience when speaking with your spouse about the news.
Provide outlets for their worries. | As mentioned in the introverted kid section above, make sure anxious kids have a journal or sketchbook where they can write or draw about their feelings. Other healthy outlets could include playing an instrument, playing a sport, cooking, or any sort of craft. Now is a great time to encourage your kids to learn something new!
Have a daily check in. | One of the most dangerous places for an anxious person to be is alone with his or her “worst case scenario” thoughts. Set aside time each day to check in with your child. Have them share how they are feeling and if there is anything they need from you. This can be in the form of a written “ticket,” a set time in the evening for you to chat, or whatever works best for your family.
Helping Your Special Needs Kid During School Closures
Parents who have kids with special needs – bravo to you.
Whether your child has sensory needs, behavioral challenges, intellectual differences, complex medical needs, or a combination of many of these things, the situation we are in is especially challenging for you.
Here are a few things that might help during this time (many of these ideas came directly from parents who have kids with special needs so you know they are good!)
Provide factual information… but keep it simple. | As mentioned above, it’s important for kids to understand what’s going on, but on a very basic, appropriate level. There are several versions of simple explanations of the coronavirus for kids. A couple are Pandemics and the Coronavirus and Corona Virus Social Story for Kids
Meet them where they are. | Acknowledge their feelings. Allow them to cry. Allow them to get mad. Allow them extra time outside to get dirty. Assure them that they are safe. Remind them that you are there for them.
Keep some structure and routines. | … but remember that you know your child best! My Facebook newsfeed has been filled with people implementing cute color coded daily schedules that include every school subject, yoga, organic cooking lessons and service projects. If that works for your special needs kid, do it. But don’t be guilted into thinking that is for everyone. Color-coded wonderland works for like 10% of parents.
YOU know your child best. If your kiddo thrives on routine, then make a routine. Even just having a “school” structure for the first couple hours of the day may be best. One woman’s child on the spectrum struggled with the exactness of their routine at first. She was finishing up a workout in the basement at noon when her son appeared, asking why lunch wasn’t happening RIGHT NOW because the schedule said lunch was AT NOON. Tell that kid that lunch starts between 12:00 – 12:15. It may take a few days to figure out what works. That’s okay!
Love These Ideas for the Kids? Apply Them to Yourself, Too!
Think about what they tell you on an airplane- put on your own oxygen mask before you put on your child’s. Although it is extra difficult under these circumstances, you MUST take care of yourself!
If you have a spouse or partner, ask him or her to tag in with the kids so you can take care of yourself. Let your kids have some extra screen time so you can have some you time. As long as everyone is safe, there is no guilt in that!
Journal, draw, take a bath, take a nap, take a walk, binge watch TV, make a sinful dessert, call a friend, clean out your email inbox, read a book, organize a closet, write a letter to an old friend, make a goody basket for a neighbor… whatever brings you joy!