Leona O'Neill: Parents need to keep calm and carry on during the Covid-19 pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic has been hugely stressful for families, but it's important for parents to lead by example when it comes to coping under difficult circumstances – as Leona O'Neill explains...

The global pandemic has been hugely stressful and kids pick up on parental anxiety

NO MATTER where you search in the library, you'll never find a book that tells you how to parent during a pandemic, perhaps because one hasn't been written.

Being a parent is hard going at the best of times, and these last six months have definitely not been the best of times, by any stretch of the imagination.

We have been through a hard lockdown. We have home schooled, we have entertained, eased fears, dealt with isolation and not being able to see loved ones, had life disrupted beyond recognition – all with an invisible enemy lurking around us.

We have done amazingly well, all of us, to keep it together, keep everyone calm and carry on – even if part of that coping was sporadically and silently hyperventilating or ugly crying over an extra big tub of ice cream when the kids went to bed.

Our children pick up on our fears and panics. When the lockdown first began, there was a lot of it around. Now that school has started and it seems every school has been impacted or will be impacted by some manner of coronavirus outbreak, our fears have evolved.

Fear, of course, has its uses. It is a response to danger – be that physical or emotional. If we didn't feel it we wouldn't be able to protect ourselves from legitimate threats. Fear usually propels us to take action to keep ourselves safe.

Experts say that tackling our own pandemic anxiety is the most powerful tool in helping our children feel safe and secure. Many of us parents are having a tougher time dealing with the threat of coronavirus than our kids, and a lot of the anxiety our children are feeling might be passed down inadvertently by us being in a constant state of worry.

Kids learn by example, so we need to teach them how to deal with stressful situations – for when we're dealing with a global crisis and for the future when they meet tough challenges, which they will, in life. If you yourself are going directly to worst case scenarios, catastrophising, crying, holding your head in your hands and panicking, that is how your children will learn to deal with tough times.

Anxiety in children doesn't always present itself in the way it does in adults. Kids might be clingy, need constant reassurance, have tantrums, take headaches or tummy aches, be moody or irritable and have trouble sleeping.

This is an ever evolving and fluid situation. One of the things that causes most anxiety for young and old is uncertainty, something this pandemic has had in bucketloads.

We are constantly bombarded with new updates, breaking news, confusing advice from government, horror stories in the media. It can be rather tempting to go down a rabbit hole on social media of coronavirus terror stories, ponder the 'what ifs' and try to focus on the future when all of this is over, mourn for our lack of normality, all things we have absolutely no control over.

The best thing to do is make sure we're present in the moment, dealing with the here and now and the things we can control – only read credible information and limit your intake of news. Make sure everyone is exercising. Try new things like yoga or mindfulness. Prepare healthy food and take vitamins to keep you all in top condition. Kids love routine, it makes them feel safe, so try to establish some manner of daily sameness.

It's hard to reassure our kids in these surreal times and often during this pandemic we just can't give them firm and comforting answers. So, instead of providing constant reassurance, remind them of all the things they are doing amazingly well and which you're proud of them for tackling – like washing their hands, socially distancing, wearing a mask and working hard to keep themselves and others as safe as possible.

The aim of the game is to have our kids emerge from this crisis as resilient young people capable of facing life's many challenges. And it is our job, here, today and from this day forward, to teach those important lessons.

In tough times we must look for silver linings. And I for one want my kids to look back and remember how Mum and Dad held it together during the worst health crisis in our lifetime and got us out the other side.

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