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Managing School Covid Fear

We are all afraid. If you have children and they are heading off to school you are likely feeling some measure of fear about a whole host of things. The teachers are afraid, the administration, the government, the whole of society is carrying concerns about how this fall and school year will unfold. And, our children are afraid. How could they not be if all the adults are carrying fear?

Children and youth are likely not talking about their fears directly. Our young are more likely to communicate with their behaviours and their bodies. Irritability, boredom, everyone and everything is “stupid” are fear in disguise. Poor sleep, upset tummies, headaches are fear communicated through the body. If they are talking about their fears, it may not be about Covid directly. A sudden fear of spiders, the dark, people/pets dying may be Covid fear expressed through the worldview of youth. Some may state directly a fear of Covid but it is likely not in the realm of the calm rational brain but from the panic survival instincts our ancient brain.

How do we support our children and youth through this time?

First, and most importantly, start with yourself! The calmer and more relaxed you are the more likely your children will be able to lean into you for support. They are desperately looking for a safe place to land their fear. So, start with you. Model conscious breathing in stressful moments, exercising, cuddling with others, and using your words to say when you need support yourself. Turn off the news reports. Limit your Covid talk to when your children are not around. Create the home as a Covid free space where you all can escape to self care and calm yourselves.

Hear their communication and believe them. The fear of spiders is real, the headaches are real, the panic is real. You don’t need them to believe it is the conditions of Covid affecting them to support them.

Fear doesn’t communicate with rational words and it doesn’t diminish with rational words. Fear relaxes back with cues of safety. What safety looks like, and sounds like, in your family may be unique to you. Board games, couch time, watching TikTok videos together, cooking, etc. are common safety activities. Think of a variety of things that appeal to all 5 senses and work to make them more available to everyone in the household.

Thoughtfully enter into the day and end your day. Predictable rituals will help with the household transitions. Everyone can work together to create rituals that get the day off to a good start. This is a good time to introduce new patterns and ideas. Instead of listening to the news, play music. Wake children with a cuddle instead of an alarm. Say goodbye with a heart drawn on the hand as a touchstone throughout the day. Leave them with a riddle to ponder through the day and then enjoy the night time conversation of how they solved it. Finding ways to communicate “that even while apart we are a team” will soothe fear.

Accept that on the return home from a day at school, full of people actively engaging in protocols to protect them from Covid transmission, they may be overwhelmed, exhausted and they may need to collapse!

Screen time for many is the #1 collapse activity. I know… I know…. Screen time is a loaded conversation. That is another post that needs to be written. But right now, it may be what is necessary. You can let them know how you feel about screen time AND also say you accept how hard their day has been on them.

When it is time to come off the screens meet their resistance with understanding. Try “I know how hard this is for you… what do you need from me to help you out?”. If more time is their answer, then you can expect that with a little more time they will turn off the screen with ease. If that doesn’t happen, then more time isn’t a support that works. Together you will need to come up something else that helps them disengage from the screen. Work together to find something that does work.

There are other modes of collapse. A nap, hiding out in their room, a crying fit, may all be part of your child’s system trying to find a way to reset from the day. They may need your help to find alternate methods to shift their state after a school day. Animals that have escaped being chased down by a predator will literally shake it off. You can watch nature videos to see how gazelles will shake their body to move the chemical dump of stress through the body. Invite your child into a dance party, shake your bodies about, set up a challenge of how high can you jump today? Find something to help them learn how well physical activity works to shift our state.

Finally, transitioning from awake to being asleep can be very difficult for many people. To be able to allow oneself to slip into the sleep state, all the defences need to relax back. We need to feel safe to sleep. And, we need sleep to feel safe. Sleep restores our bodies, promotes growth and brain development, stores our memories and prepares us for the next day. Sleep problems are a significant indication of how children are doing and can be an indication of a viscous cycle of stress creating more stress. Invest time in supporting your children into a good night’s rest. A return to old nighttime rituals is not a regression in your child but a necessity in a climate of stress.

Regardless of your level of fear, the truth is that the whole world has been on high alert for over a year now. We have had to adapt, and then adapt again, and then adapt again. The more we can stay calm and keep connected to each other, the more capacity we will have to manage whatever has to happen this year.

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