That is why we owe it to our children to focus on positive experiences during these difficult times, while minimizing bad experiences that can hurt children for life.
We already know that positive experiences, especially close relationships, encourage healthy child development and enable us to withstand the ups and downs of life outside of the current pandemic.
At the same time, bad experiences such as child abuse, neglect and family challenges – especially due to the absence of protective factors – can cause ongoing damage to mental and physical health.
While many parents don’t think about child abuse, raising awareness during this health crisis is the key. That’s because of the increased stress we see in families because viruses can increase the risk of child abuse at the hands of their loved ones.
Children who normally attend school now study at home. Their parents may work from home, work in important jobs (without good childcare choices) or may lose their jobs.
Talk with children
Ask the children about their feelings. Try to listen without judgment. Listening only reinforces your important relationship with your children.
Children need to know that it’s important. Explain why keeping a physical distance, staying at home, not playing outside with their friends, and canceling school is a personal sacrifice that they (and we) do for the benefit of all of us. Understanding and discussing this as a shared sacrifice builds their foundation for empathy.
Children’s address afraids. Children who are old enough to see the news might worry, without understanding the meaning of what they see. While the news is frightening, we can be honest and convincing by explaining how social distance helps and how scientists around the world work together to help resolve crises.
Many families experience financial pressures, even more than usual. It is okay to talk with children about your experience and what you do about it. Find resources to get through this difficult time. Fortunately, community; local, state and federal governments; and many businesses and non-profit organizations help meet basic needs.
Some of us have work that we can do at home. Even though this is a blessing, it is also confusing for children, and makes us stressful. For younger children, make a routine so they know when you can be interrupted, and activities to do when you are not.
Be nice to yourself. It is impossible to have normal work productivity and is always available for your children. If you need to turn on the TV and make the kids watch movies or play video games to give you time to focus, that’s fine!
Parents sometimes also need time off. It’s okay to take a deep breath, or even step into a locked bathroom or outside the porch to decompress. Our children watch and learn how to best deal with stress. Try to stay calm and not regret taking time for yourself so that you have something left to give to your children when you are in the right headroom.
Reach out and sustain the community
Kindness to the family. We see an outpouring of kindness for families with children at home. Neighbors deliver diapers for economically stressed families, write encouraging messages on the sidewalk chalk, and put teddy bears in their windows for toddlers and children to be found on neighborhood streets. Think about what you can do for the family in your community.
More technology doesn’t matter. Maintaining our own social relationships and our children means more reliance than ever before on the web. Parents can relax their rules about internet use and allow children to frequently make contact with their friends online via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime or the like. Likewise, drinking coffee with friends can reduce our own isolation.
Distancing yourself physically is very important to prevent infection and spread of the virus. At the same time, social connections are more important than ever before to prevent child abuse and neglect
During the month of prevention of child abuse and beyond, we can all focus on ensuring that our children will have good stories to tell their grandchildren.
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