As the realities of the coronavirus unfold, many schools will be closing, and many events canceled. The question over whether these choices represent wisdom or fear is not at issue. The reality is that many of you will have children at home for extended times, so let’s get prepared.
The Three Biggest Mistakes You Could Make.
Mistake 1. Feeding on Panic and Fear in Your Home.
My phone is exploding with the ongoing stories about this dreadful virus. I suspect yours is too. So how is this bleeding over to children’s lives?
First, there are many parents who have their own personal struggles with anxiety. This is not a shameful issue of course, and in fact, is rather common these days. However, since anxiety is our modern code word for FEAR, these parents have a certain vulnerability to getting ‘hooked’ on thoughts and fears about the virus. This can lead to repeated questioning, obsessive like cleaning and even repeated exposure to comments about Covid-19. The minute by minute media updates fuel the fire of anxiety, and often offer little value toward wisdom, safety or right action.
Even for those not typically prone to get hooked, the Covid-19 is a story that has captured everyone’s attention, and for good reason. The dominance of the story on our phones reflects how the mind will feed on fear-based information, even if we are not prone to fear and worry. It gets our attention, and we consume. (The amount of our attention that it has consumed however, is another issue.)
We are chatting about it at work, or with other adults, and these naturally come home. These updates become long conversations at the diner table, with some children more vulnerable to absorbing the fears in these discussions, than others.
But also, the repeated attention (if we put it there) is a training process for children. We subtly teach them to stay focused on this, with no helpful result or outcome in sight. They can gradually learn to follow our lead, and soon their fears can grow out of proportion to reality.
The Answer: Set Limits on Exposure to Fear-Based Questions, Comments and Behaviors
We want our children to be wise, but not afraid. So of course, we educate them, and we take appropriate action. Public gatherings are essentially canceled everywhere, and opportunities for exposure are being reduced nationwide. This is wise. And children should be reassured that they can relax, as precautions are being taken. This is helpful.
Also reassuring to children (without any medical or respiratory problems, such as asthma), is the fact that most of the threat and concern for this Covic-19 is for adults, and particularly older adults. However, children are still vulnerable, mostly those with any underlying medical issues. But for the wide, wide majority of children, they must be reassured that all is well for them.
And most importantly, after we take appropriate action and follow healthy guidelines, we turn our attention elsewhere. We discuss other events, other activities and discuss inspiring and interesting videos we might watch on YouTube. We influence our children’s state of mind by ensuring that they are focused on a broad spectrum of thoughts, questions and activities. This is very helpful and important.
Mistake 2. Allowing Tweens/Teens Untethered Access to Info on Covid-19
Some kids are also particularly prone to anxiety and fear. Covid-19 can become the source of a child’s heightened fears and anxiety if left to their own explorations. (Already, in my office, I have two teens asking questions about coping with their anxiety over the virus.)
And the reason for the heightened anxiety is primarily their ongoing conversations and exposure to chats and updates about the virus. Yes, their parents are prone to anxiety a bit. But much of their specific distress stems from their own ‘mini-obsession’ with the virus and its spread. Despite the data suggesting many other threats are more significant for a healthy teen, their ‘mind-space’ is disproportionally filled with thoughts about Covid-19.
The Answer: Set Constraints on What Children/Teens Access on Their Devices.
Too often, despite the growing research on the negative effects of untethered access to phones and social media, we fail to set constraints on our children and what they access on the internet. However, in this evolving world where fears could hijack your child’s future happiness, it is important to act.
Some children are outspoken about their fears, and their worries are right in front of you. In this case, the need for action is clear. Set limits today.
Other children are quiet, researching and worrying in silence. This is more problematic, as these ‘quiet teens’ will often offer one-word responses and give no indications of the underlying seriousness of their struggles. Often, we see these children in our Neurofeedback Clinic, with results from QEEG brain mapping pointing to much more serious clinical issues evolving, than is revealed on the surface of their life or from their statements.
It has long been said, knowledge is power. Thus, it is wise to know what your child or teen is watching and how much time are they absorbed in thinking, chatting and consuming content that promotes fear. In a growing number of cases, I see teens who have no limits on their devices who become consumed with fearful or dark thoughts. The history of their usage reveals that their unconstrained access led to an obsession about some fear or worry, or even (at the worse) suicide.
If you know what your son or daughter is viewing or discussing, then you can decide what limits are needed. In most cases, reasonable constrain is all that is required. However, in some cases, more serious restrictions are needed to help a child focus on other, more positive events or activities in life. Be willing to do this, if indicated.
Will they be unhappy with you? Yes. Is it necessary? Sometimes.
The simple key is this. Educate your children enough to take appropriate action at home, and while away from home. Ensure these healthy practices are in place. Now…stop talking about it. Stop obsessing about it. And don’t let them get access to information that allows or encourages their own private fear-based thinking.
Instead, focus on a myriad of other activities and events, and engage in creative or learning discussions. Concentrate on what you want in your family life…not on what you fear.
In next week’s article, I will discuss mistake number three. This will address the likely shutdowns in your child’s school system, and the importance of taking action to keep your child on track.
Attention Parents at Home Suddenly Educating Your Children
Many of us were not prepared for layoffs from work, quarantine and endless hours of managing children. If child management is a challenge for you, consider signing up for my free online tutorial series focused on helping parents to get throw this crisis, while educating and managing their children in superior ways.
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