My daughter is like most girls her age. She loves school, playdates, and watching Netflix. She wakes up way too early, and astonishes me with her boundless energy. She is different in one way, though: she lives with anxiety. Both my hubby and I were shy, quiet, self-conscious children, so my daughter comes by her nervousness naturally.
With our worlds turned upside down recently with the spread of the coronavirus, the general feeling of uncertainty has been affecting her—and me. Since she’s been off school and without her regular routine (something she relies on), we’ve both had to find new ways to keep calm.
I think the worst thing about being an anxious kid right now is being housebound and having to get used to the idea of social distancing. Every morning without fail, she will ask me same the question: “What are we doing today?” I dread hearing it because there is no easy answer. With nowhere to go and nobody to see for the foreseeable future, we are both starting to feel more claustrophobic and uneasy.
Below are some ways I am distracting my daughter from her worries. (Tip: They also work for adults).
Go out for a walk
Getting out of our small townhouse and breathing in some fresh air (at a safe distance from other people) is a natural way to slow down my adrenaline rushes and keep her apprehension at bay. Even walking to the mailbox makes us feel like we are not always cooped up.
Read, read, read
My daughter has recently discovered the popular Dog Man series of books by Dav Pilkey. This quiet activity is something she can do on her own, while my husband and I work remotely in the background. A comedic graphic novel series, the stories focus on a part-dog, part-man police officer. Since we don’t know how long she’ll be off school, this helps her keep up her reading skills.
Get creative with an old toy
We’ve coloured, done crafts, and played LOL Monopoly a lot in recent days. When my daughter gets bored of these activities, I’ve brought some of her old toys up from the basement. Instead of being anxious about why she can’t see her friends or go to our favourite restaurants, she’s becoming more inventive with her old building blocks, making little villages and castles. We’ve also updated our Jenga game by writing fun questions on each block, to make it more interesting and engaging.
Playing around with this multimedia app has become part of our mother-daughter morning routine. It’s a silly and fun way to start the day. The filters, lenses and other hilarious effects have become an entertaining diversion. Video calling our family on Facebook Messenger is another awesome way she can stay in touch with her cousins and friends.
Daily Art Project
To give our day a bit of structure, we’ve designated a slice of time each morning to do one art project. There are a multitude of kid art tutorials online, but it can also be really simple: “Let’s trace our hands and pick five colours to decorate.” It also acts as a great thing to share later in the day over a Skype call to friends and family.
Switch things up
To keep my daughter’s attention away from the disturbing events happening outside our door, we’ve taken to mixing up our regular routines at home. For example, we’ve started eating dinner downstairs in the basement and switched seats. We’ve also brought the TV upstairs to the master bedroom, to watch TV together and eat popcorn. Since she’s an only child and often looks to us as her playmates, creating our own little movie theatre has helped us all pass the time at home.
Make bedtime a safe space
At the end of a social distancing day, we are all often worn out as a family. It’s not easy to always turn off the TV or refrain from talking about the latest COVID-19 updates in front of her, but we try our best. As her mother, I know she will pick up on any of our anxiety and internalize it. Bedtime is when we slow things down, reassure her, and spend extra time cuddling. Creating a safe place for her at night gives us the chance to talk about what’s she’s scared about. Or sometimes her questions are lighter and age-appropriate, the typical worries of a six-year-old, like “What if we run out of popcorn, Bear Paws or Oreos?”
Tara Mandarano is a Best of the Net–nominated writer and editor, and an advocate for patients in the mental health and chronic illness communities. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @taramandarano.