UNICEF: What tips would you give parents who are building a structure for younger children?
I think we have to recognise that younger kids actually do sit in class for periods of the day and tolerate the interruptions of a lot of kids around them, and they won’t have to tolerate those when they’re at home. I don’t think we should underestimate their ability to work in a focused way from home.
That said, every family knows their child best and it may be ideal, depending on who is supervising them, to structure their day so that all of those things that need to get done get done before anything else happens: All of their schoolwork, all of their chores, all of their have-to-do activities versus get-to-do activities. For some families, doing that at the start of the day will work best for kids.
I also want to add something that some people may be reluctant to voice: We’re stuck with this, so to the degree you can enjoy it — you should. If this means you’re making pancakes as a family for breakfast and that is something that was never a possibility on a normal school day and that’s something that makes everybody happy, enjoy that.
“We should remember that they are the
passengers in this and we are driving the car.”
Handling anxiety and negative feelings
UNICEF: How important is a parent’s own behaviour in a time of crisis?
Dr. Damour: Parents, of course, are anxious too and our kids know us better than we know ourselves. They will take emotional cues from us. I would ask parents to do what they can to manage their anxiety on their own time – to not overshare their fears with their children. That may mean containing emotions, which may be hard for parents at times especially if they’re feeling those emotions pretty intensely. I would want for parents to find an outlet for their anxiety that’s not their children. We should remember that they are the passengers in this and we are driving the car. And so even if we’re feeling anxious, which of course we will be, we can’t let that get in the way of them feeling like safe passengers in our car.
UNICEF: Should parents ask their children how they’re feeling on a regular basis or does that bring up more feelings of anxiety?
Dr. Damour: I think it depends on the kid. Some kids really keep to themselves and so it may be valuable for a parent to say, “How are you doing?” or “What are you hearing?” Other kids are going to be talking and talking and talking about it. The way we want to approach these things is to find a good balance between expression and containment. You want some expression and feeling, especially at a time when we should expect kids to have some pretty intense feelings, but you also want those emotions to feel contained. So if your kid is high on expression, you’re going to work on containment, if your kid is high on containment you’re going to help them with a little bit of expression.