How are you feeling today?
No matter where you are in the world, you are likely aware of the COVID-19 epidemic.
The COVID-19 epidemic is a stressful time for parents, guardians and children alike. During this period of uncertainty, you may be experiencing a wide range of emotions including anxiety, helplessness, loneliness and agitation.
Children are going through the epidemic too, and just like adults, they may be experiencing a wide range of emotions. Some of these feelings might be familiar to them, but others might be entirely new. And while these feelings are normal reactions to a stressful situation, children might not cope well with big or complicated emotions. During this period, children need help in processing these emotions, and greater love and care to restore a sense of wellbeing.
Every day brings more news of the outbreak and increasing worry. In countries directly impacted, like China, daily life is being disrupted. Children cannot go outside and play with their friends, recreational activities are being cancelled, and schools are closed.
Children’s normal social relationships are being disrupted because of the epidemic. They aren’t seeing their friends and teachers as normal, and some children are also separated from their parents, and may be staying temporarily with relatives or friends.
In infected regions, the streets are empty. Most people are staying at home and seeing increasing prevention and control measures to stop the spread of the virus.
A simple tip for parents or guardians is to help your child navigate their emotions through drawing. Art can be an effective way of self-expression in helping children to release anxiety, tension, fear and other emotions. It can help them to recognize, understand and deal with their emotions, which makes it easier for them to communicate feelings with others, share or discuss these emotions, and seek help when emotions are becoming overwhelming. Developing better emotional self-awareness also helps children to better understand and react to other people’s emotions.
Observing my emotions: is this me?
When you notice mood swings or strong negative emotions in your children, you can consciously guide them to observe the changes happening to their faces and bodies. This could include having them look at themselves in the mirror or taking a few photos of their facial expressions with a mobile phone. We seldom see our own facial expressions when our mood changes, so we may not be aware of our facial expressions when we get angry, sad or anxious. Guiding children to look at themselves in the mirror or to look at a photo of themselves helps them to understand what that emotion looks like.
When the child is calm, you can sit together (using any photos if taken), and ask questions like “What were you thinking at that time? How did it feel? Were there any funny sensations in your body, like a fast heartbeat or feeling heavy?” In identifying the feelings and physical expressions connected to an emotion, a child will begin to connect the two, and begin to recognize and understand different emotions. If your child finds it difficult to capture real-time emotions, you can also initiate questions and pose daily life examples to guide their thinking. For example, "The first day of school has been postponed so you won’t be able to see your friends. How are you feeling?" Being able to recognize and understand their emotions helps children connect their actions to their thoughts and feelings, and helps them develop self-awareness and start to deal with these emotions.
Recording my emotions: keeping a mood journal
Guide your child to draw their emotions, including their facial expressions or a feeling they were having at the time of the emotion. If they find it difficult, they can use a mirror to reflect the expression, look at a photo taken earlier, or even simply look at emojis and choose the most appropriate one to draw. Then have them further describe feelings in writing. If your child doesn’t know how to write, you can use a mobile phone to record short mood videos of your child describing their feelings.
Besides drawing themselves, children may consider drawing the people around them. Drawing family members could be of great interest to children. You can guide your children to carefully observe facial expressions and physical movements of family members with different emotional states, then inquire and write down that person’s feelings. When your children ask questions, it is important to share your real feelings with them, but it is also important not to overwhelm them. This is not only a good opportunity for you to connect with your children, but it is also a good way for them to learn to recognize the emotions of others and learn how they deal with them.
Encourage your child to try it out and record their feelings during this period of disruption caused by the outbreak. When everything returns to normal, the mood journal might be a good reminder of how brave they were!