One of the very first things we did at the onset of the pandemic was provide mental health support for our families and our staff separately through zoom, every weekend. I knew that the transition to lockdown meant a sudden disruption of everyday routine and that families and staff would grapple with the reality of a fatal pandemic, which would inevitably take a toll on everyone’s state of mind. Of course, the children was who I worried about the most. As could be expected, there was immense concern of regression, increased anxiety and meltdowns. By that very first weekend, I held a webinar for all our parents and outlined the need for following some basic strategies at home. These strategies continue to be relevant today, a year later.
1. Set a daily realistic routine IF POSSIBLE, if the kids are still attending remote schooling.
*Make a morning routine
*Have a daily Schedule (for school and therapies and breaks)
*Have meals at set times
*Have a bed time routine
2. Break big tasks into small, achievable tasks and praise/reward all tasks met
*For example, a child may need to clean his room—break it down to: 1. Put clothes in the drawer 2. Throw garbage out 3. Sweep the room (and praise/reward each task met)
*Tasks that were easily completed pre-pandemic may now be hard to complete. Do not insist on completing the tasks as before. Break these also into small, achievable tasks.
3. Do not place demands that would be difficult to meet
*Especially in the time of a pandemic, with the absence of a school routine, setting demands difficult to meet may result in even more heightened anxiety. Do not demand that the child finish a math worksheet when the he/she already has difficulties answering one question.
4. Do not establish consequences that cannot be followed through
*This is very important. Sometimes parents establish consequences that they cannot follow through (If you don’t do your homework, you are NEVER allowed to play a video game ever again!). In these instances, the children quickly learn that consequences do not really happen, so there’s no real need to comply to demands. If you must set a consequence, set something you can follow through (If you don’t do your homework, you are not allowed to play video games for one day.)
5. Try not to talk too much about the pandemic (Kids understand, even if they’re non-verbal, but likewise, kids do not fully understand, even if they are cognitively advanced)
*There is a tendency for adults to speak freely in front of non-verbal kids, assuming that they do not understand. But we cannot make that assumption, and talking about the deaths surrounding covid, the fear of the unknown, the shocking statistics we see on the news, can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety in an already very stressful time. Likewise, kids who may seem to fully understand do not need to hear the constant reporting of bad news related to the pandemic. Even for adults, hearing the constant reports of the horrors of this pandemic causes fear, stress, and anxiety.
*If kids ask questions related to Covid, answer honestly, but provide words of reassurance (Yes, covid can get people sick and some even die, but we are doing all the things we need to do to stay safe and protected.)
Finally, extend grace to yourself, as a parent doing your best to support your child in these unprecedented times. Regression is impossible to completely prevent as schedules and quarantine times provide constant disruption to daily routine. We just have to accept that some things are beyond our control, and that when the pandemic is done, we can put on our running shoes and work on getting back the skills our children may have lost during covid. And that’s okay. We will all do it together then. For now, let’s take a deep breath and just do the best we can.