A message from Dry Arch Play Therapist, Jill.
As a Play Therapist in the Dry Arch Centre part of my role with the children and young people I work with is to provide them with a safe place to explore the challenges they are currently encountering and have previously faced in their lives. Now that you are home with your children I hope to provide reassurance for you that what your child will need most is for you to be their constant and safe place at this time of immense change, transition, fear and uncertainty.
I have outlined below 5 thoughts in relation to how we as parents can support our children and young people during this time.
Firstly, remember that they are, at their essence little humans: As adults we find ourselves in a situation that for us is unnerving, uncertain, anxiety causing and scary. It is in recognising that this is now we feel that we can begin to appreciate what our little people are feeling. How hard it must be for them to cope with the all the changes that have been forced upon us recently. Their normal has changed considerably, they are no longer with friends, seeing family, going to school, attending afterschool activities and that list is endless. All this confusion is further enhanced by the constant bombardment we are receiving all around us in relation to the coronavirus. We must give both ourselves and our children time and understanding as we all adjust to this new normal.
We all, adults and children alike are experiencing big emotions and feelings presently; at times we cope well, maybe even better than expected but there will be times when we will have tears, sadness, tantrums, outbursts even giddiness - this is normal. At these times we must meet our children were they are at, giving them space to process all that is going on, helping them find words to understand their feelings, taking time to connect with them through to play, to cuddle and to ensure most of all, that they feel safe. It will benefit both you and your children as you navigate this transition together.
Secondly, it is important that we as adults check in with how we are feeling about the Coronavirus. To consider the impact on us of the challenges we are facing personally and as a community as a whole. It is very normal to be experiencing anxiety and fear ourselves at this time, and often this will come in waves that will knock us off our feet. Even, if we are not talking directly in front of our children about how we are feeling about the virus, our worries or our concerns we will be showing these to our children through our actions and behaviour. It is very natural for us as adults at this time to be scared, overwhelmed and stressed so if we could bring an awareness of this to our presence in the home it would help us to manage those emotions in front of our children and be more conscious of what is being passed on to our kids.
Also, it is important that we as parents and carers take time ourselves to process and come to terms with the reality that this situation has created in our own lives. If it is possible carve out time to work through this yourself. As a creative therapist I will always recommend doing this in creative ways such as drawing, painting or writing but please take time to do this in whatever way works for you.
We will be more able to meet our children in the calm and contained manner they need at this time if we are feeling calm and contained within ourselves.
Thirdly, provide age appropriate and factual information for our kids and young people. Our children will have picked up a lot of information from many sources over the past few weeks and will have developed their own version of events. It is import that we as their parents/carers do not shy away from talking to our kids about what they know and what the facts are. It is vital that our children are not left to develop their own narrative or fantasies about this situation as this will cause them further stress and anxiety.
There are many resources available online to us such as Social Stories and animations that help provide age appropriate information about the virus to our children. I have linked a helpful Social Story below for you to look at, there are many available, choose one that you feel will be most accessible to your child or young person. You know them best.
Fourthly; it is important we provide our children with a space to explore their feelings, worries and concerns in relation to the coronavirus and also in relation to the changes they have been experiencing in their daily lives As parents and carers it is vital that in addition to providing an age appropriate understanding of the situation we are in that we also dispel fears and face the challenges of these uncertain days with our children together. Having the opportunity to explore these fears and worries with their safe person will provide more peace for our children than we probably realise. We can do this by engaging directly with our children, you can ask your child what they understand/know about the virus? What are they worried about? Often our children surprise us in their grasp and capacity to obtain and hold information – these questions will open up a conversation and also give you an insight into any worries, concerns that they may be holding.
This can be done through art or play if talking is difficult or not age appropriate – can we draw a picture of the virus? Can we make it into a monster, create the CORONAVIRUS MONSTER using play doh or junk art? Role play being Coronavirus SUPERHEROES? These are all means of letting children get out anything they are holding on to but also to open up discussion. Don’t be afraid to talk about it and don’t ignore it. As I stated previously, If we let children wander about what is going on they might not come up with the facts and this will heighten anxiety.
Finally, I want to talk a little about our new normal and the need to develop new routines at home. Acknowledge and recognise with your children the challenges they may be experiencing in regard to changes such as school closures. For all our children school provided routine, consistency, boundaries, friendship and the list is endless. The loss of this to our children is significant and they will cope with this in their own way. You know your children and young people best, for some: possibly our year 7s they may be experiencing loss at missing this significant ending and preparation for transitioning to big school. For some they relied on the routine, thee predictability and consistency that the school day provided and now are struggling to contain themselves in this new normal. For each it is different but it is important that we recognise this and keep the lines of communication open with our children.
I feel the most important thing that we can do as we adjust as families to this new experience of daily life is to give ourselves time to transition, to develop new routines that work for our children and families, to take off the pressure of providing the full school timetable at home – these will all come. But in this moment as we navigate this new normal with our children I would recommend your focus is daily playful connections with your children or young people. This can be achieved in very simple ways; play a board game together, exercise together safely, colour together, play on the floor together, the list is endless. And if you can try to do this individually with each of your children as well as collectively, it is important that each child has the chance to experience that connection with you in a unique and special way. Find the opportunities for connecting with your child or young person in their own little bubbles and through this enhance that sense of safety and security they need to find in you as we adjust together.
Support available at the Dry Arch
There is a need as we progress to develop new routines, to undertake the academic activities set by our schools but we will achieve this with more success and in wilful collaboration with our children if we constantly focus on being connected to them. I believe this can best be achieved through being playful and creative. Find our inner children, introduce them to the play we loved as kids, teach them silly songs and fun games. If this is a challenge for you and for many of us it is – please contact me for ideas or use the wealth of resources available to you online.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I hope that it has been helpful. Over the coming weeks we will endeavour to continue to support you in establishing, enhancing and developing that sense of safety and security we as parents can crucially provide for our children at this time.
I want to end with a poem from Kitty O’Meara.