Spring break is just around the corner, and while that final hiatus in the school year normally brings with it hope for sandy beaches or snowy hills, the sentiment this year is notably different.
It’s hard to believe that spring break 2020 marked the real beginning of the Covid crisis in America. For many, that fateful week in March began a long and unwanted vacation from life as we knew it. Schools let out for the break, and many did not return for the remainder of the school year. Kids said goodbye to their friends, not knowing that it would be months before they would say hello again.
As I think back to this time last year, I am struck by how much we didn’t know of what was to come, and by how much our families and, in particular, our kids have suffered under the tremendous weight of the pandemic.
As CEO for the Care Center, Oklahoma County’s only child advocacy center, I have seen first-hand how Covid-19 has impacted children. That’s been most apparent in the dramatic increase in reported cases of child abuse that began flooding in as kids returned to the classroom after a longer-than-usual break.
But even in families where abuse isn’t present, the children have been subjected to unprecedented change in a relatively short period of time. All children need stability, and they are empowered when parents are willing to listen, respond and react according to the child’s need. Here are three ways families can check in on their children during this most stressful time:
- Put down your devices. With so many people working from home, the boundaries between work life and family life have been blurred. While maintaining an effective work schedule is a necessity, being present in family life is just as important. Children crave their parents’ attention, and when they don’t get it, they may lose confidence in their own importance and they may even act out. Experts suggest closing devices and putting cell phones out of sight during family hours. This gives space for interaction and connection – two things kids and adults need now more than ever.
- Maintain a routine when you can. Even though schedules are in flux, families can preserve a sense of normalcy just by following a standard routine to the extent one is possible. This can look like set times for waking up and going to bed; dinner all together every evening; and set hours for school and work activity. Creating and sticking to a routine can bring a sense of calm amidst the chaos.
- Listen and observe (and seek help). Kids often show signs in distress, even when they aren’t willing to admit they are troubled. Changes in behavior, drastic mood swings, developmental regression and noticeably pulling away from friends and family are all signs that a child may be experiencing anxiety or even trauma. It’s important for parents and caregivers to be attentive to these signs and to seek help for the children in their care. Help can mean an appointment with a family counselor, a family conversation to discuss the issues openly or even a call to law enforcement if abuse is suspected. At The CARE Center, we’ve made ROAR, our prevention education program, available for free online, and that can be a great way to talk to very young kids about abuse. Providing a safe space for difficult conversations is one of the most important things a parent can do to empower and protect their children not just during the pandemic – but for a lifetime.