For months now, parents have been explaining to children the need to stay home for protection from the spread of Coronavirus. Especially at the beginning of the Pandemic, many parents experienced an intense fear of potential germs that could bring home the virus and spread to family members. In well-intentioned cautions to children and with nearly neurotic (eck-hem, I’m talking about myself here…) cleaning procedures upon returning home from public places, parents may have inadvertently shared their own fear and panic regarding the dangers of Coronavirus, both consciously and unconsciously, with their children. Now, as families begin to return to activities outside of their homes, children are asking, “Am I safe away from home?” Some are even experiencing their own anxiety and panic about life outside of their Coronavirus-free homes. Here are 10 Tips for Preparing Your Child for Activities Outside of the Home, which can help reduce everyone’s anxiety about doing so:
- Parents, are you anxious about leaving your home? If so, it is important to take care of your own anxiety. Kids are smart and intuitive. If you say, “Yes, we are safe to go to summer camp and work” but have an adult meltdown when you see your child touch their face without using hand sanitizer AGAIN, your child is not going to believe what you say; they are going to believe what you show them with your own behavior. If you are having anxiety about returning to activities outside of your home, don’t be surprised if your child is too. Set up an appointment with a Therapist to find ways to manage your own anxiety. That would be a great example for your children!
- Decide ahead of time what your family’s game plan is. Parents need to be on the same page and you need to make these decisions before talking with your kids. When parents demonstrate a clear plan, this is reassuring to children. Show them and tell them that you’re in charge of making decisions for the family about what is safe and/or unsafe to do. Let them know they’re off the hook for making these decisions because you’ve got it handled and you’ll let them know before each activity what everyone needs to do to stay safe. Then follow through with that. Before different outings, remind children of all the things that you’re each doing to keep yourselves safe, such as wearing masks, washing hands regularly, etc. Reminding ourselves what is within our control may help reduce anxiety.
- If you’re returning back to work and daycare/camp soon, get yourselves back on your schedule ASAP. Re-establish bedtimes and wake up times to get everyone back on their sleep schedule. Being fully rested helps everyone better manage big feelings. Do this at least 2 weeks before go-time.
- Get them excited for activities outside of your home by making a list of all the things you’re looking forward to doing once it’s safe to do so. As you begin to do more and more away from home, take turns choosing activities on the list.
- Consider having an incremented approach to life outside of your home. If you’ve got 2 weeks before your family is back to work/daycare, start increasing interactions outside of your home now, while still following all state and CDC guidelines. Plan an outdoor play date with another family you trust that’s been social distancing. Slowly increase outings to allow your child to flex their bravery muscles.
- Check with professionals at the daycare/camp and confirm what the guidelines will be and then discuss with your child what will be different about camp/daycare this year, such as staggered start times, mask wearing, etc. This will help them feel prepared for the changes instead of surprised by them.
- Create a nurturing and supportive environment for your children to share and process their concerns and feelings about being outside of your home. Let them know it’s ok to feel anxious and encourage them to talk about it, draw it, or write about it. Recognize your child’s stress signals and reflect about it when you see it by saying something like, “I notice the look on your face and wonder if you might be feeling anxious.”
- If your child is experiencing big feelings, such as fear and panic, introduce healthy coping skills by identifying things they can do both with a trusted grown-up and by themselves to calm themselves. Try likening growing feelings to a wave in the ocean, that grows big and then crashes and comes back down. Discuss things that help big feelings settle, like a wave crashing to the shore. Ask them what will help them ride the wave instead of being pulled under by it. If you need help with this, you may want to schedule an appointment with a Therapist to help prepare your family for this transition.
- Do a practice run one morning before you all actually do return to work/camp/daycare. Get up, get ready, pump yourselves up, gather your things, and try to leave at the time you’ll need to leave by on the actual day. On the way to the drop off location, talk about how everyone is feeling about being outside of the home, name what they’re looking forward to as well as what they have questions or concerns about so you can speak to those things then. Nothing beats a bad drop-off for starting a day poorly. Try to work out the kinks before the actual day, and don’t forget to make it fun with your family’s favorite songs on the way there! After you get home, practice what your Getting-Home-Procedures will be, such as changing clothes, hand washing, etc.
- Discuss with your child what their “brave” looks like. Ask them to model it for you and describe what their body feels like when they wear it. Identify times in the past that your child has worn their brave and how it went. Imagine with them how they will use their brave when they leave your home and go to daycare/camp. Help them create or find something that reminds them of their bravery that they can keep with them in their pockets during the day.
Ultimately, remember that just as the transition to being only at home was a big adjustment for all of us, it is now another big adjustment for everyone as we transition outside of the home. Extend understanding and patience to yourselves and your children as we all make these adjustments together. Best of luck!
Need help getting your child to wear a mask? Check out this post here: Tips for Getting Your Child to Wear a Mask.