kids

"Make room for our kids' grief." A psychologist's best tips for helping kids out of isolation.

Medibank
Thanks to our brand partner, Medibank

It’s strange times we’ve been living in, especially as parents.

Three months ago, one of our biggest problems at home was navigating the minefield of screen time for our kids.

Now, amid the constant life changes around COVID-19, and dealing with anxiety in young minds from the news, parenthood is harder than ever.

But as we slowly return to some sense of normal, it’s worth remembering that children will still be coping with the fallout from living through a pandemic.

Luckily, the wellbeing of parents and kids is at the forefront of lots of people’s minds right now. For example, Medibank, who are the Official Health Partner of not-for-profit mindfulness organisation Smiling Mind, is working to help make mindfulness accessible to all Australians by supporting Smiling Mind’s free app.

Medibank and Smiling Mind recently launched a Family Program to introduce mindfulness to parents and children of all ages. It includes meditations such as ‘Tough Day at School’, ‘Getting Ready for Bed’ and ‘Family Digital Detox’.

“There has been a huge uptake in the usage of our app since the outbreak of COVID-19, which shows just how important mindfulness is particularly during a time of such unprecedented uncertainty,” says psychologist and mindful meditation teacher Catherine Morey-Nase from Smiling Mind.

We asked Catherine to share more about the program, as well as how families can find better coping mechanisms during this uncertain time.

1. How can mindfulness programs like Medibank’s Smiling Mind Family Program help families adapt better to ‘the new normal’?

It’s natural, and appropriate, to be feeling grief and other challenging emotions.

Mindfulness programs, such as the one Smiling Mind has developed in collaboration with Medibank, can help families navigate these challenging times by providing activities that bring family members together, and support them to find shared moments of calm and connection.

Mindfulness helps us access and operate from the part of our nervous system that enables us to think more clearly, make better decisions, connect better with our loved ones and take better care of ourselves and others – all of which we need more than ever right now.

2. Which mindfulness exercises work best for kids of different ages?

We recommend experimenting and exploring different mindfulness exercises to help kids find the ones that resonate best with them – which is why we’ve included such a variety in the Family Program. Mindfulness is a skill that takes time and practice to develop, and the more enjoyable kids find it, rather than it being something they’ve been told to do, the more likely they are to continue to practise.

ADVERTISEMENT

A body scan, a foundational mindfulness practice, done at bedtime, can be a great place to start to help kids of all ages unwind and prepare for sleep. The ‘Getting Ready for Bed’ meditation in the ‘Bedtime’ section of the Family Program, which is a short body scan, could be a great place to start.

3. How can we help our kids feel more positive amid the current news cycle?

Children are inundated with social media, the news, overhearing adult conversations, as well as conversations with friends. It’s important to meet kids where they are, and answer their concerns with honesty and accuracy – but without being alarmist.

Understanding what they’ve heard and what they are fearing or thinking about it, and what questions they have, is a good place to start. If we respond without understanding what is on their mind, we might inadvertently make things worse, point out issues that are more challenging for them to understand, or raise concerns they might not yet have considered.

Setting limits on how much news is being consumed, as well as being mindful of how much the adults in the house are talking about COVID-19, is important.

Highlight some of the positive stories – such as acts of kindness. This will help give children a sense of hope and highlight the importance of taking care of each other.

4. What’s the best way to explain COVID-19 to kids without scaring them?

Just keep it simple. Parents could say something like:

“Some people who get COVID-19 don’t even know they have it, and most people feel like they have a bad cold until they get better.

“But, a small number of people can get very sick. Usually, these people are already sick from something else and their bodies don’t have lots of energy left over to fight COVID-19.

“Since you are young and healthy, you would probably not feel very good for a few days before getting better.”

Younger children require brief, simple information that reassures them. Older children will be more vocal in asking questions, and may need help in separating rumours from facts. They will be able to discuss the issue, so encourage them to seek out their own information from reliable sources. This can help them feel a sense of control.

father daughter
Practising mindfulness can really help both them and us. Image: Supplied.
ADVERTISEMENT

5. What are your thoughts on extra screen time?

Some extra screen time is probably going to be inevitable in isolation, so cut yourself some slack. However, it’s still important to set limits around what your child is able to access.

6. How do you explain the importance of routine to a child who thinks it's a time when anything goes?

Children need structure and clear boundaries at the best of times, let alone during a time of such uncertainty and unpredictability. Create a routine that feels manageable, whilst incorporating creativity and play.

You might also involve your kids in contributing their own ideas into their routine to give them a sense of agency.

7. When the kids are sad that events are cancelled, how do we explain to them it won't be forever, when it does feel like forever to them?

Acknowledge and make room for our kids’ disappointment and grief. It’s important to help kids feel safe to feel and express their emotions by validating them first, before explaining that this won’t last forever.

Doing this helps kids feel heard and understood which has a soothing and calming effect, paving the way for us to then explain and problem-solve.

8. How do you help a child who's feeling lonely in isolation?

Tell them that you understand that they are missing their friends and that this is hard for them. Encourage them to identify one or two particularly important friends they would like to stay connected with, and consider reaching out to these families to arrange regular virtual play dates via Zoom or virtual movie nights (like Netflix Party).

You could also encourage your child to get creative and make a postcard or write a letter to send to their friends, and include drawing of fun times they’ve had together.

Download the Smiling Mind app today (on iOS and Android) and find the Family Program under 'All Programs'.

Feature image: Getty.

Medibank

Download the free Smiling Mind app today (available on iOS and Android) and navigate to the Family Program under All Programs.

00:00 / ???