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Children’s Mental Health and Behaviour during COVID-19

Dealing with your child’s feelings and behaviours during the pandemic:

Taking care of children in ‘normal’ circumstances can be very stressful. Taking care of children in a global pandemic can be much harder than usual. It is normal for parents to get angry, feel frustrated, or lose their patience, and especially so at this time of COVID19.

But, did you know that your child/ children are probably feeling very much the same way as you?

You may have noticed that their tantrums or angry outbursts are more common or more intense lately, and that they are more demanding of your attention and your time. This can be tough when you may have many other problems such as your and your family’s health or job security. So, how can you support your child at this time too?

Supporting your child’s mental health and positive behaviour in the home

Understanding negative behaviour in your child

If you are feeling stressed, then it’s most likely that your child is too. Their life has also been turned upside down; their usual routine, such as going to creche or school, playing with friends, visiting with family is completely different . Children do not always have the words to explain how they are feeling. They are more likely to show negative or confusing feelings through behaviours that we, as parents see as ‘bad’. These behaviours may be: negative attention seeking, aggression or breaking rules.

It can be really helpful to remember that it’s not your child that is bad, it’s her/ his behaviour which is a problem. Try to separate who your child is, in himself/herself, from their behaviour. For example if your child has drawn all over the walls, instead of saying “You’re naughty! How could you draw on the walls?”, try to say “Drawing on the walls is wrong, please don’t do it again. Talk to me if you want to draw and we can look for some paper for you.”

Prevention is better than cure

Some negative behaviour can be prevented or reduced by doing the following:

  • Maintain familiar routines as much as possible, or create new ones, especially if you must stay at home.
  • Discuss the new coronavirus with your children in an honest way, using age-appropriate language.
  • Help children find positive ways to express feelings such as fear and sadness by helping them to do something, such as playing, telling stories or drawing.
  • Help children stay in contact with friends and family members through telephone and online, if possible.
  • Find time to do something creative with your children, even if it’s just for 10 minutes each day: draw a picture, write a poem, build something. Bake a cake. Sing or dance, or play in your garden, if you have one.
Develop positive ways of managing negative behaviour

First, if you are feeling overwhelmed with anger by your child’s behaviour, try your very best to take a pause before confronting the behaviour with your child. There are different ways you could choose to pause. You may want to walk away and count to 10 slowly, close your eyes and take a few deep breathes in and out until you feel some of that anger die down. You can find some helpful breathing exercises at www.messagesformothers.co.za. It’s fine if your child sees you doing this, it will teach them positive stress coping skills too!

Next, try to redirect, or distract your child from negative behaviour. Get your child’s attention by going down to their level, using their name, and calmly giving a specific and realistic positive instruction that redirects them to a positive behaviour.

For example instead of shouting “Stop banging the pots, you’re making too much noise” Say “David, it sounds like you’re making your own music. Let’s make a music time where we can do this together and I can help you make different sounds.” And then when your child listens, praise their positive behaviour immediately.

Be consistent and give it time

Sometimes your child’s behaviour will get worse before it starts to improve. Don’t be hard on yourself, both you and your child need time to adjust to a new way of managing negative behaviour.

It is also important that you practice self-care and stress reduction activities too. Try to take some time during the day to do something you enjoy, even if it’s just 5 minutes to enjoy a cup of tea or coffee alone somewhere in or around your home. Whatever makes you smile.

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