For Parents: Supporting your child on their speaking journey….especially during this pandemic.…

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Do we really know how this global pandemic is affecting our children? As a Primary School teacher for 28 years, a School Principal and a parent of 4, I thought I had some idea, until I sat down for two and a half hours last week to listen to my youngest son as he began to break down and open up.

“Children hear way more than what is said”

Our children are very, very clever. They will always do their best to protect the people closest to them, the people they love. They worry more about their loved ones than they do about themselves. When I had been asking my son on a daily basis “How are you”, he’d almost always answer, “good, I’m fine”. Perhaps there were some days when he was fine, perhaps also he didn’t want to bother me or others with the worries and concerns that were growing in his mind and perhaps, he was afraid that if he verbalized his worries, they might actually somehow realize themselves and become a reality. Do you find this notion bizarre? One thing I know for sure, from my experience with children, is that children have amazing imaginations and they can create all kinds of amazing stories in their minds, some that serve them well and some that don’t. They can take one tiny piece of information they may hear and multiply and magnify it to turn it into magical or monstrous musings that turn over and over again in their minds. In spite of the fact that we know that what we say and what our children hear can be very different things, there are many many articles out there about how to talk to our children about Covid 19 but not so many about how to encourage and empower our young people to open up and speak about their concerns about Covid 19.

Children often open up most easily about their true feelings while engaged in another activity, for example, colouring, gardening or playing with their toys. Taking the time to sit, stand, get comfortable side by side with our child to listen to their musings can help guide us, as parents and educators, to know what questions or comments we can make to elicit further information. Our goal is not to judge what they are saying or to solve or fix their problems but to give them the opportunity to get what’s inside out and to give expression to their feelings, concerns and experience.

You can ask your child some direct age-appropriate questions about what they already know about Covid 19. Direct questions do not always open the door to deep communication. Keep the questions open. Instead of “Are there good things about being home during this time?”, try asking, “What are the many good things about being home at this time?”

Discuss with your child, what is within their power to do at this time. Children feel less out of control, helpless and fearful if there are concrete actions that they can take to make the situation better. They love to help and know that they can make a difference. For example, they can

  • wash their hands
  • keep their social distance
  • help in the kitchen, garden, sitting room
  • write a letter / post card to granny, grandad
  • make a video to brighten up a family member’s day
  • keep their own body as healthy as possible with food, exercise, plenty of sleep etc….
  • write a ‘Thank you’ card or imagine an award that they would like to present to a scientist or a front-line worker at this time. Write and record the speech. This could really brighten someone’s day.

When our children first begin to talk, they talk and they talk and they talk. This is how they become better talkers, by talking having listened extensively as babies. This is how we improve at any skill, by practising that skill. As children grow and develop, the communication skills of listening and evaluating continue to be important on their speaking journeys. By listening to others and evaluating how others are communicating, they learn how to hone their own communication skills

All of our children are absorbing a lot of negativity and worry at this time. They will need our support in creating a safe, supporting and accepting environment in which they can process and express what’s going in. Don’t forget to share the positive stories of Covid 19 with your children. If your children see you stressed or worried, use this as an opportunity to remind them that it’s okay to be worried, that all of your feelings are okay, but let them know that you have your happy and contented moments too. Make sure they see you when you are feeling calm and resilient too. They are learning such an important lesson in life right now, by observing us, how to deal with uncertainty.

Don’t pressurize your child to talk if they don’t feel like it. Just try to make it as natural as possible. Let them know that you are there whenever they want to talk and that anything, absolutely anything they want to say is okay. No judgment. Maybe a ‘note to self’ but no judgment! Reassure your child that we are all in this together. Reassure them too, that everyone in their lives is doing their best to deal with this situation and the situation is improving. Teachers and all involved in education will be prioritizing their needs while planning the return to school.

Plenty of reassurance is great and taking the time to talk to your child is great too but giving them the opportunity to talk and express themselves during this time is really, really vital.

How can we truly know what’s going on in the hearts and minds of our children if we don’t listen, truly, deeply listen with compassion and an open mind, to them and what they have to say?!