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Tending to Young Children’s Mental Health During COVID-19

children's toys

Charis Wahman, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education in the College of Education, shares four research-based strategies to provide common school supports at home.

COVID-19 has created a lack of stability in our everyday lives. Families and particularly children are affected by the lack of structure and familiar activities. Without the usual supports provided by school-based programs and resources, there can be long-term loss of children’s social and emotional development.

Families can create a more predictable environment for young children. The following strategies can help during these uncertain times.

1. Maintain a predictable family routine. For example:

  • Breakfast (Note: children can help with preparing all meals in age-appropriate ways)
  • Morning learning (learning alphabet, writing name or letters, learning numbers)
  • Reading time with a parent, sibling, or other relative
  • Lunch
  • Music time (dance or listen to music with a parent, sibling, or other relative)
  • Snack
  • Play a game, or outside with a family member
  • Dinner
  • Bedtime routine (take a bath, read a story, tell a story, etc.)

2. Have children help you create three or four guidelines for everyone in the home to follow (stated in the positive). For example:

  • Use loving words
  • Help with preparing and cleaning up after meals (set the table, put dishes in the sink, sweep the floor)
  • Play/Keep all toys in the area in the home that you decide
  • Lights out at the child’s bedtime

3. Help children stay connected to friends, teachers, and family members through electronics and technology (i.e., phone, Skype/Zoom, video).

4. Take care of your own mental health as the primary caregiver by accessing support materials online and through sharing of responsibilities.

To help everyone in the household learn about establishing routine and home guidelines, the family should use social narratives or videos to teach the family routine and home guidelines. Children can help to write the story and/or be in the video demonstrating the family routine and/or home guidelines.

To model the family routine and home guidelines older siblings and parents can model the behaviors. Even a video of the child themselves demonstrating the family routine and guidelines is a type of modeling. Rehearse and role play the family routine and guidelines.

Finally, combine these strategies with an appropriate reward.

Kim Ward and Charis Wahman via MSUToday

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