In South Asian countries like India and Pakistan, it has been three months since our lives and activities have become limited to our home only. Like everybody else, teenagers have also become the victim of this pandemic, and it brings them a set of newfound fears at an age when young people tend to feel invincible. Schools and colleges have been shut down with no favourable chances of reopening them soon. Many of my students are connected to me as well as parents; they usually share their concerns and hopes just to make sure things will going to be normal soon – which I also hope and pray. However, talking with them makes me think that students, especially teens, are at a significant transition period in their lives, and parents should consider this transition seriously. During this crucial period in their development, teens often are suddenly faced with processing a range of intense emotions, from fear and anger to sadness and grief.
Following are some tips for parents to help their adolescents to cope with their fears and maintain their healthy routine during this pandemic period.
Addressing Teen’s Fears and Emotions
Children rely on their parents for safety, both physical and emotional. Reassure your children that you are there for them and that your family will get through this together. (Source: Healthy Children Org)
- Answer questions about the pandemic simply & honestly. Talk with children about any frightening news they hear. It is OK to say people are getting sick, but say following rules like hand washing and staying home will help your family stay healthy.
- Recognize your child’s feelings. Calmly say, for example, “I can see that you are upset because you can’t have your friends over.” Guiding questions can help older children and teens work through issues. (I know it is disappointing not to be able to hang with your friends right now. How do you think you can stay in touch with them?)
- Keep in touch with loved ones. Children may also worry about a grandparent who is living alone or a relative or friend with an increased risk of getting COVID-19. Video chats can help ease their anxiety.
- Model how to manage feelings. Talk through how you are managing your own emotions. (I am worried about Grandma since I can’t visit her. The best I can do is to check in with her more often by phone. I will put a reminder on my phone to call her two-three times a day until this outbreak ends.)
- Tell your child before you leave the house for work or essential errands. In a calm and reassuring voice, tell them where you are going, how long you will be gone, when you will return, and that you are taking steps to stay safe.
- Look forward. Tell them that scientists are working hard to figure out how to help people who get ill, and that things will get better.
- Offer extra hugs and say I love you more often.
Maintain their Healthy Routines
During the pandemic, it is more important than ever to maintain bedtime and other routines. All children, including teens, benefit from routines that are predictable yet flexible enough to meet individual needs.
- Structure the day. With the usual routines thrown off, establish new daily schedules. Break up schoolwork when possible. Older children and teens can help with plans, but they should follow a general order, such as wake-up routines, getting dressed, breakfast and some active play in the morning, followed by quiet play and snack to transition into schoolwork.
- Lunch, chores, exercise, some online social time with friends, and then homework in the afternoon.
- Family time & reading before bed.
Children often have more trouble with bedtime during any stressful period. Try to keep regular nighttime routines such as Book, Brush, Bed for younger children. Put a family picture by their bed for extra-love until morning. Too little sleep makes it more challenging to learn and to deal with emotions. Remember to turn off cell phones and other mobile devices an hour before bedtime.
Special Time In
- Even with everyone home together 24/7, set aside some special time with each child. You choose the time and let your child choose the activity. Just 10 or 20 minutes of your undivided attention, even if only once every few days, will mean a lot to your child. Keep cell phones off or on silent, so you don’t get distracted.
- Avoid physical punishment. Spanking, hitting, and other forms of physical or corporal punishment risks injury and isn’t sufficient. Physical punishment can increase aggression in children over time, fails to teach them to behave or practice self-control, and can even interfere with healthy brain development. Corporal punishment may take away a child’s sense of safety and security at home, which are especially needed now.
Remember, avoid shaking or jerking a child that could cause permanent injuries, emotional meltdown and disabilities and even result in death. Be a pro-active parent, sibling and a neighbour or a friend. If you have a friend, relative, or neighbour with the new baby at home, think of ways you can reach out to provide support during the isolation period.
Stay Safe, Secure and Healthy