How to communicate with our children

Children may have lots of questions as we continue to navigate this pandemic. Here Dr Michelle O'Driscoll shares some advice on how to communicate with them
How to communicate with our children

Dr Michelle O'Driscoll shares some advice on things to consider during your own communications with your child. Pictures: Stock

JANUARY, 2022, really made a grand entrance, with Covid numbers on a steady incline, and ongoing uncertainty around our path out of this pandemic. Are schools in or out? Who is getting the vaccine? What are the isolation requirements? Have we been a close contact? Do we have symptoms?

We are cancelling, rescheduling and generally disrupting everything that was once certain, and one cannot help but wonder the best way to navigate this for children.

Despite what we may think and our best efforts, our little ones are not oblivious to all of this upheaval. Many are incredibly tuned into what’s going on in the adult world, and very sensitive to any stress linked to the current situation. Indeed, many more are incredibly resilient and adaptable, taking each day as it comes. But this resilience happens in part thanks to the right supports around them.

It can feel like we have little control over how the current situation impacts upon their day to day experience, but research shows that mindful communication around the topic of uncertainty helps to mitigate long-term effects.

Here are some things to consider during your own interactions with kids at home, applicable to the pandemic, or indeed any other challenging event.

Keep them in the loop

After a certain age, its next to impossible to pull the wool over children’s eyes about what’s happening. And in any case, it actually isn’t helpful. Trying to do so just makes things more complicated in their little minds as they attempt to unravel the truth from the falsehoods. They eventually start to fill in the blanks with the scary or exaggerated things they’ve heard elsewhere.

Being clear and honest from the start gains their trust, reduces any tendency to overthink, and eases a lot of the anxiety.

Give information that is age appropriate

What you say to a five-year-old will of course differ greatly compared to what you would tell a 12-year-old about what’s happening and why.

Keeping the information at a level that is suitable to their comprehension and ability to deal with is very important. Pitch it appropriately, and they will feel empowered and reassured.

Allow your child to be heard. Picture: Stock
Allow your child to be heard. Picture: Stock

Make it about them

A child’s need to be heard is high in these situations. Being genuinely interested in how they’re experiencing something, what they’re finding challenging, and what they find helps can really support them in identifying and expressing their needs. Ask open questions and give time for the response to come.

Choose times when you’re playing side by side rather than sitting down formally to discuss, and focus on their feelings and emotions as a priority. Ask what the emotions feel like in their body, what types of thoughts they notice. This all helps to get them processing their experience.

Self-awareness as a caregiver

If your own behaviours are demonstrating anxiety, stress or worry while you’re saying there’s nothing to worry about, this will be picked up on, bringing us right back to the issue of trust.

Acknowledging how you’re feeling, but coupling that with reassurances that you will always look after them and keep them safe, that everything will be OK – that’s the best, most balanced approach.

You aren’t required to be immune to the situation, but showing to be dealing with it appropriately.

Give them some control

Thinking of ways that children can own the situation, whether it’s having their masks ready for school, or helping to drop groceries to family in isolation, allows them to feel useful and needed.

Isn’t that how we all want to feel during challenging times? Focusing on what can be controlled is helpful in reducing the alternative, which is lack of control, and overwhelm.

Open communication – always

No question too silly, no topic out of bounds. It may not be how we’re used to communicating in Irish households. However, it’s certainly becoming a more mainstream way of engaging with the younger generation in place of the “be seen and not heard” mantra. And it pays dividends. Knowing that they can come to you for straight answers about anything is reassuring and comforting. In these coming weeks and months, that’s what we should strive for in our communications with our kids about all challenges and uncertainties.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Michelle O'Driscolltarget="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> is a pharmacist, researcher and founder of InTuition, a health and wellness education company. Her research lies in the area of mental health education, and through InTuition she delivers health promotion workshops to corporate and academic organisations nationally. See intuition.ie

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