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Helping Kids Feel Safe in a Pandemic

As the weather gets colder I keep thinking about how people will manage during our long pandemic winter. Will there be lockdowns? For how long? Will we be able to hang out with at least some of our friends? Certainly it seems that some social restrictions will remain in place. Long hours and days sequestered mostly at home will be harder to endure in winter than they were last spring.

The prospect of a winter of social distancing is not that daunting for me personally. I work at home, and I’ve done that for years so I’m used to it. I live with a partner I love, get along with and enjoy being with. Our offspring are grown up, so we’re not juggling school issues, homeschooling or bored, housebound kids.

But I do wonder what the coming winter might be like for people who live alone, and parents with school-aged children.

I want to focus on parents here. I spent years writing about parenting, so I developed a lot of confidence about how to talk to parents and how to translate expert’s knowledge and advice into ideas that were useable and meaningful to everyday family realities. But I gotta tell ya, COVID-era parenting kind of has me stumped, mostly because I have no lived experience, and also because I don’t spend much time with young kids and their parents these days.

However, regardless of the way situations and parenting culture/realities shift, certain key ideas will always remain at the core of parenting. One of the most important of those is safety: the holistic sense of safety we talk about in Self-Reg.

I believe that the internal, subconscious, as well as conscious, feeling of brain-body safety is the foundation of self-regulation and mental wellness. So, whatever we want and need to do to help kids in this time of crisis, change and uncertainty, it starts with helping them feel safe.

And this is not about words. We tend to privilege and over rely on words to reassure kids. “We will protect you.” “We’re going to be OK.”

Words are fine. But some of the things that help kids feel the most safe have less to do with reassuring words and more to do with simple actions and activities that help kids pull kids away from their problems and anxieties and bring them back into red brain/blue brain balance. Let’s remind ourselves what some those are.

Play – especially playing outside

Relationships - having enjoyable times together, amid all of the things that are on the daily to-do list

Eating familiar, favourite foods

Routines: not so much by-the-clock schedules, but a daily pace, punctuated by moments of connection, that makes life feel mostly predictable and stable

This is stuff we already know, of course. But sometimes, in the midst of busy daily lives, and exceptional challenging circumstances such as we are in right now, it’s easy to forget. Let’s remember these, and other, simple truths and try to help each other remember this winter.

Lot of other activities could be added to my tiny list above. What helps kids feel safe in your experience?


P.S. I didn’t get into the Self-Reg realities of living alone. But Halifax-based poet-musician Tanya Davis has written a lovely poem about being alone at home and Canadian filmmaker Andrea Dorfman has turned it into great little animated film. Their art speaks to the topic ten times better than anything I could ever come up with. If you haven’t already seen How To Be At Home (you may well have!) you can watch it on the NFB website.

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