Managing Child and Teen Stress During School Closings
Go outside (safely), be active, be kind, and learn skills to manage stress.
Posted Mar 14, 2020
I've been reading many articles and blog posts about how to manage stress and boredom and be productive while our children and teens are home from school for weeks (or more?) due to COVID-19 social distancing interventions such as school closings. Many of these articles and posts (see some links below) provide great lists of strategies and activities, and I will try not to repeat them here.
However, I have some ideas that do not seem to be regularly mentioned in these otherwise excellent resources: go outside (safely, keeping social distance), be physically active, teach some life skills and be kind to others.
Go Outside (safely, keeping social distance): Social distancing means keeping a recommended distance from other people to limit the spread of the virus. This is not the same as "stay in your house or apartment all day." If you have a yard and can supervise (and limit) your children’s contact with others, go play in the yard. Go for a walk in the woods — while keeping social distance (at least six feet) from others and not touching surfaces others may have touched. If you have a car take a ride to a state or national park and get out and explore — while keeping recommended social distance from others, of course. Research suggests outdoor activity reduces stress.
Be Physically Active: Go safely outside (see above) and play, have a catch or kick a ball around, walk, run, or hike together. If indoors, set aside a place and time to do some basic stretching and exercises. Many home-exercise videos, for children and adults, can be found online. Research suggests physical activity reduces stress.
Teach Some Life Skills: Children of all ages can help cook or bake. Adolescents can, with some preparation and guidance, be made responsible for preparing and serving a family meal. Have your teen watch you one time, then help a bit, then do the prep and cooking or baking while you watch and guide, then, when ready, do it on their own.
Same thing with doing laundry, so that eventually your teen is responsible not just for their own clothes but for the family’s clothes as well. Teach your older child or teen how to rake the yard or prepare a garden. Do your walls need re-painting? Have your child or teen help you paint. Oil change? Teach your teen how to change the oil in your car. You may even be able to teach them to vacuum or clean the toilets [insert smiley emoji here].
Older children and teens can be learning life skills in preparation for the time when they will, hopefully, someday, be out on their own. Knowing how to do these kinds of things also builds their sense of self-efficacy. Research suggests sense of self-efficacy ("I am capable," "I can solve problems and overcome obstacles") reduces stress.
Be Kind to Others: Acts of common decency and kindness and providing support and aid to others reduces our focus on ourselves and our anxieties — and can also teach our children good, lifelong, values. Research suggests altruism reduces stress.
Visiting with elderly or disabled neighbors wouldn't be a good idea at this time but you might consider supervising your children as they talk with and check in on these neighbors while keeping a safe social distance (at least six feet or more) — through an open window or door (you and your children on the outside, your neighbor on the inside) for example. Or make some calls or video chat — a great way to practice those phone skills. Or do some outdoor chores for these neighbors – rake or clean up a yard or flower bed, for example.
Important Note: Social distancing is key to your own and your children’s health and to limiting the spread of the virus in the community. If you experience in your particular circumstances a conflict between ‘social distancing’ and enacting the suggestions in this post, don’t enact them. Social distancing comes first.
Eyal, Nir (2020). Home-schooling teens and tweens during corona virus closings. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/well/family/coronavirus-school-closings-homeschooling-tweens-teens.html
Porges, Marisa (2020). Schools are closing for corona virus. Now what? https://parenting.nytimes.com/preschooler/coronavirus-schools-lessons
For information on social distancing go to “From Pandemic to Social Distancing: A Corona Virus Glossary” at https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/science/coronavirus-terms-to-know.html
Another Important Note: See the references section of this post for some links to articles with many more recommendations for how to emotionally survive and even thrive during corona virus closings. I am providing New York Times articles in-part because the Times says their corona virus coverage is free to all (no pay wall).