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How to Protect the Emotional Health of Children during the Period of Social Distancing  - COVID-19

Dr. Mairim Vega  Carrero,

Pediatric Neuropsychologist and Associate Professor


 Migdalia Batista Camacho, MS,

Doctoral Student in Clinical Psychology

Albizu University, University Center of Mayagüez

The current period of pandemic and social distancing has brought with it a myriad of stressors for everyone. For children, these stressors can include: disruption to their routine, distance education with long hours in front of the computer, being inside their home all the time without seeing their friends, concern for their health and that of their relatives, among others. All this can lead to our children presenting changes in their behavior and mood, including:

  • Irritability

  • Worry

  • Difficulties separating from your parents

  • tantrums

  • challenging behavior

  • Difficulties in attention and concentration

  • Change in sleep patterns

  • In young children: regression to behaviors that had already been stopped (eg, bedwetting)

That is why in this article we will be talking about strategies that we can use to support our children and protect their mental health during this period:

1. Take care of your own mental health:

Fathers, mothers and caregivers are the mirror and model of our children. The following are useful strategies:

  • Keeping a balance and monitoring what we see and hear. Let's limit news that makes us feel uncertainty and concern.

  • Set aside time for food, physical activity, and sleep.With the busy times we live in, it helps to have alarms to remind us of those essential activities.

  • Set limits.Set specific times for work and rest. Post visuals that let your children know the times you will and will not be available. In the same way, inform at work the hours in which you will be available to read and answer messages.

  • Practice pleasurable activities that help relaxation.Starting the day with gratitude and self-care routines can make the difference between a stressful day and a bearable day. Patience and calm are transmitted to everyone in the home.

2.Establish Routines:

  • Try to provide your children with a daily routine,similar to the routines they had when they were in school in person.

  • Use visual calendars (drawings/photos) and agendasto help your children anticipate what will be happening. Knowing when the meals, snacks, and leisure activities will be gives them emotional stability. Within the agenda, include homework, school tasks and fun activities chosen by them. 

  • Include time for activity physical - do exercises inside the house, run in the yard, jump, dance, and do your favorite physical activities.

  • Include activities that can be done as a family  - for example: board games, planting, painting, puzzles, playing with plasticine.

  • Keep a sleep routine– even when the children are not in school. This will help reduce insomnia and irritability.

  • Limit the use of electronics– Our brain is not designed to spend long hours in front of electronics (computers, tablets or cell phones); much less that of children. Limit its use during moments of leisure. Replace its use with the activities mentioned above

  • Include rest periods during distance learning– If your child is receiving distance education, provide small rest periods (3-5 minutes) between each assignment and class. Allow them to get up, be physically active, eat healthy snacks, and drink water during these periods.

3.Behavior Management: Recognition and Positive Reinforcement:

Social distancing is difficult for everyone, identifying, acknowledging and reinforcing the efforts of your children will help them maintain good behavior and emotional health.

  • As often as you can,Recognize the effort your child is making. The following are examples of phrases you can use: “I love it when you sit down to do your homework.”, “Thank you for picking up your toys.”, “You are doing a good job attending your classes”.

  • Even small things, like picking up a piece of paper from the floor, waiting for food, and playing quietly like brothers, should be recognized and praised.

  • Make reinforcement and gratitude a frequent habit. On those most difficult days for them, when they are most irritable or overloaded, is when they need it the most.

4.Managing Emotions:

It is necessary to allow our children space to communicate how they have felt, listening empathetically. 

  • Help your child name their emotions.For example, use phrases like "I see that you feel, sad/worried/angry..." For the little ones we can use books, videos where situations are presented to them and they can identify emotions.

  • Validate their complaints and concerns.For example: "I understand that you feel worried about that exam", "I understand that what happened made you feel upset", "In these circumstances it is normal to feel bored." Before offering you the solution, your son/daughter must feel heard and understood.

  • If your child has questions about what is happening,look for age-appropriate videos or drawings to provide explanations; Explain at your level and as many times as necessary.

  • Special place - identify an area where children can be when they are feeling extreme emotion (anger, sadness, anxiety, and joy) so that they can associate that place as an area of respite and relaxation.

  • Provide opportunities for socialization- One of the main challenges of being distanced is socialization.  Currently we have tools to communicate and, although the physical connection is not there, it is beneficial for everyone in the family to keep in touch with people outside your home.

Every day is a new beginning to practice positive parenting styles. For this you have to have a lot of perseverance, patience and resilience. Fathers, mothers, and caregivers, be self-compassionate and practice self-care, you are the engines in the lives of your sons and daughters. Beyond the recommendations established here, we recommend that you pay attention to the following symptoms: frequent changes in emotions, extreme emotions, significant changes in eating and sleeping patterns. These could indicate a larger problem. If this happens, we recommend that you seek help from a mental health professional.

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