As we enter Phase 2 here in Singapore, we do so with caution, while the economy has opened, we remain vigilant and aware of social distancing and hygiene measures to keep us safe. After 2.5 months adults have learned to manage with life in the new normal — yet the true heroes of this lock down are children. They have had to adjust to a loss of structure, routine and normalcy at school and home.
From June 29th, children return to school daily. Currently, in Phase 1 are compulsory measures like temperature taking, mask-wearing, reduction of intermingling among different cohorts and safe and social distancing during classroom and exam times. As children, resume regular school hours on, it brings another wave of change for them to comprehend, learn and adapt. While they can play with their friends now, they have to adhere safe and social distancing measures along with new guidelines to how they can interact with each other.
Children are social butterflies and being among their friends playing keeps them thriving emotionally and socially. With the limitation on social interaction and having to keep up with the changes children may exhibit variations in mood or symptoms of distress during these changing and frustrating times.
We offer simple ways that are geared towards creating an open and supportive environment for children who may be frustrated, fed up or feeling lost with the continuous changes in routines at home and in school.
Heart 2 Heart
It is vital to create an environment for honest communication so that children feel encouraged to express their feelings and concerns about what is happening. Children’s well-being will be supported if they can receive assurance about the situation and the reasons for why precautions continue to be used in a school setting – such as using face masks, having their temperatures checked and playing in small groups of five. Your children will likely receive information from multiple sources, including their school teachers, friends and the internet; therefore it is important to facilitate an open conversation so that children can come to you if they are confused or concerned.
To facilitate this, be forthcoming with COVID-19 related information and provide them with the updates relating to the new normal. Clarify that they should be coming to you with their questions and that no topic is out of bounds. For younger children, be short and to the point to help them comprehend the situation. Be conscious that there is no need to overwhelm them with all the uncertainties, including the local and global news.
Validate their feelings
Validating feelings leads to feeling heard and understood, which helps children feel comforted and protected. This entails verbally validating and acknowledging any negative emotion your children may be experiencing throughout lock down measures. Children may experience feelings of sadness or anger among the rapid changes that are taking place. Acknowledge their feelings by validating that it is reasonable to be experiencing a range of emotions and thoughts in response to what is happening. Failing to acknowledge or validate feelings can have a negative impact on children’s self-esteem and self-belief later in life, which is why this is generally a good practice to share with your children.
If you are witnessing your child go through some negative emotions, make sure to respond to them. Tell them you understand that they are feeling this way and that you know that the circumstances are difficult. To help them voice their emotions or feelings — ask them questions about how they are feeling after learning about the new measures, how was school and why they are feeling what they are feeling. When asking about school, avoid focusing on homework and academic matters — instead, ask if anything exciting or funny happened. When checking in with homework, avoid ‘questioning’ the child — perhaps telling them I am here if you need help with your work is a supportive way to start.
Make sure to speak compassionately to them and give extra love and attention.
Model Calmness and Positivity for your children
Children are very perceptive and tend to imitate the behaviour or moods they see in their parents. Sometimes adults too struggle with changes and find themselves in distress which stems from thinking about their children; money issues and career. It is essential to be reminded that the negativity you carry may contribute to creating an anxious space for your children and that they may take on these negative emotions.
To cope with this better, consider taking on daily practices that will help you be calm and positive for your children to be around. If you are experiencing anxiety, consider mindfulness techniques, meditation, and light exercise to calm your mind and body. Having strong communication with your partner will be helpful to give you better time and space, even if this is a couple of minutes in the day, to take care of your mental health in the ways that work for you. Take priority in looking after your mental health, to be a calm and positive parent.
Adopt new Routines
Relying on routines are an excellent way to stabilise moods and behaviours because they give us a sense of structure and normalcy. These will be equally as important when adjusting to the new normal for school children. To help them adapt to new measures in school, consider creating space for new routines in the home front. This could be as simple as putting out a basket for clean and used masks at home and placing it somewhere visible such as the kitchen so that children can pick them up and drop them off at the start and end of the day.
Another idea is to get your children involved in making their masks so that they can be proud of the ones they make and bring into school. Perhaps introduce a board sharing feel-good notes in your living space, have everyone write encouraging notes each day and stick it on the board. When your child contributes to something meaningful, they will feel like they are a part of the solution. Preparing space for new changes in your home and school life will make the transition easier on everyone.
Creative and Active Expression
Children going through change may react emotionally because they do not know how to cope with change. Hence, it is a good idea to prepare activities that will help children channel that extra emotion into. Keeping their mind and body meaningfully engaged with puzzles, art and craft, card and board games, reading, role-playing, simple stay-home physical exercises may help with managing their emotions and well-being.
You can carve this time into their daily routine after school lessons or on the weekend as a family activity. Get creative with your children by starting some crafty DIY projects to allow the children to use their creativity and for them to pick up at any point during the week. DIY projects could be painting eggs, bottles or building a house from materials around the house (cardboard, toilet rolls). Not only will this busy them and provide an outlet for their emotions, but it could also create some positive memories during these challenging times.
For the most part, the new normal of Phase 2 is allowing us and our children to resume social activities — however, we must move forward with caution. One way to include more time for children with friends is through virtual play-dates — this will be exciting for children as they will undoubtedly want to see their friends as much as possible. This will give them a bit more space to have fun together with their closest friends, and reassure them that betters times are ahead of us.
As we strive to cope with these changes, we must remember the little troopers that children are. As they look to us for guidance and support; we too can look to them for strength and joy and take pride in their resilience.
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