The situation couldn’t be more serious, so safety comes first. But there’s reason to play games as well.
By Dr. Gail Saltz, Contributor
SOCIAL DISTANCING, ALSO called physical distancing, is difficult for all of us – especially kids and teens. It’s absolutely critical to slow the spread of the coronavirus. And at the same time, it’s important to understand – and offset – the strain it can take on adults and kids alike.
It’s tough for children to lose the structure of school and the social connectedness it provides. For most kids, the abrupt change to life as they were living it, the loss of daytime structure, their understanding that what is happening has to do with illness and even fears of death are likely to increase their anxiety. Upwards of 1 in 4 kids will at some time have an anxiety disorder, and these children are especially vulnerable to high anxiety during this time.
Fortunately, taking some preventive steps can help protect the mental health of kids and their parents. Those include:
- Creating a schedule for your kids. Children find comfort and gain a sense of control through structure and organization. Involve them in the process, and set a time to wake up, do schoolwork, relax, be active, bathe or shower, and go to bed each night.
- Exercising. National fitness guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity like brisk walking for adults each week, and 60 minutes of activity daily for kids. Everything from just playing in the back yard to family dance parties are great ways for kids to have fun while moving. Activity can boost mood and decrease stress and anxiety.
- Allowing for extra downtime. Take advantage of cancellations and closures, and don’t overschedule kids – or your own time – so that they’re able to relax, even during this difficult period.
- Being social. Use technology from FaceTime to Skype to ensure kids can stay in touch – even when physically separated – with friends and extended family.
- Having fun as a family.
The Family That Plays Together
A great way to stay connected, be creative and keep kids’ and adults’ brains stimulated is to engage in fun, mentally healthy activities – from board games to artwork.
Here are some things you can try at home:
- Read. Most kids don’t do enough of this. Reading builds vocabulary and increases fluency.
- Consider taking online courses. While many kids are doing e-learning, or virtual education, since schools are closed, some may be missing out on classroom lessons right now. Online courses can serve as a supplement. There are tons of options for every age level, including some offered by Ivy League colleges.
- Play virtual games. While kids may gravitate toward playing video games online with friends, this could include playing strategy games with cards or board games via Skype with others.
- Watch (educational) TV. This includes historical or science-based documentaries.
- Write. Encourage kids to journal, and write creative stories, poetry, lyrics or music. Whatever comes naturally, this will help them to express themselves – including sharing anxieties and working through distress.
- Encourage other forms of artistic expression. Art therapy is known to help children share and process negative feelings and scary material. Drawing, painting, creating collages – there are lots of different mediums, depending on a child’s interests. Parents can give their kids a prompt to draw what they are feeling right now. Then, afterward, discuss their artwork by allowing them to explain what it means and why.
- Turn to drama. Psychodrama is another method of expressing and working through difficult feelings for children. Encourage them to write a play and act it out using their dolls or stuffed animals. Again, discuss its meaning to them.
Building all of this into your day-to-day life will help your child feel calmer during this unprecedented time. And if you engage in many of the activities with your kids, you will feel calmer, too.