Q My daughter - who is an only child - is really friendly with some kids, one of whom is in her class, who live at the end of our cul-de-sac. I would be quite friendly with their mum and up until the coronavirus, we all got on like a house on fire. Since the lockdown, we have been obeying the rules but often we see them in the local park with other kids from the class - perhaps arranged, perhaps not. and they have had friends over. My daughter gets really upset when I don't let her go over and play and asks why she is the only one not allowed on play dates. I don't know what to say that doesn't seem critical of the other mum. Can you help?
A This is a major challenge many people are faced with every single day. You are asking your child to do something really difficult, to stop meeting friends and to stay away from them when she does see them. This is hard enough in itself. On top of this, she is witnessing her friend seemingly not having to obey these rules. This is hard for you and for her, and there is no way around it. What you are asking her to accept is that there are a set of rules laid out by the Government and she has to follow them while her friend doesn't. It is a tough concept to absorb, that life is not fair.
Firstly, reinforce why you are obeying the rules. Being direct with children is the best way, finding language that is age appropriate and said in a way that gets the message across in a clear and calm way that leaves her fully aware as to why she is staying away from her class mates.
Children work well when they understand 'the why' and when they can see that there's a good reason. Showing her how she is helping by staying at home and that she is part of a historic team effort that is working towards helping to slow the virus down and beat it.
Print off the free download of Professor Graham Medley's informative and reassuring children's book on the Coronavirus (www.gillbooks.ie/childrens/childrens/coronavirus-a-book-for-children). This might be a good way to get into this conversation, exploring in a child-friendly way what the coronavirus is and the reasons as to why we are all social distancing. Check out 'BrainPop' which is filled with lots of great resources to help children navigate the coronavirus with worksheets that explain how each of our actions can prevent the spread of the coronavirus. There are lists that help a child differentiate between fears and facts, quizzes, simple explanatory videos and she can also make her own movies (www.brainpop.com).
Brains On has excellent podcasts and videos on the coronavirus and also kid friendly videos on why we are social distancing (www.brainson.org).
Checkout Nanogirl, aka Dr Michelle Dickinson, has a great video explaining germs with the help of some germ teddies on YouTube.
Praise your daughter's efforts and acknowledge that you see that it is a big sacrifice but, most importantly, that what she is doing is really paying off. You can use the proposed plan to open up the country again to explain that the rules are being changed as time goes on to allow her to meet friends with social distancing, because she and thousands of other children have been so good at obeying them.
An amazing line I heard Simon Harris say as he spoke with a doctor was that the doctor could save hundreds of lives, but by staying at home, we - and say specifically to your daughter that she - is saving thousands of lives. Which is an incredible achievement in anyone's life, never mind in a child's life.
Look out for excessive reassurance seeking, such as asking the same question, but with no change after being reassured, and with continued reassurance being sought. Seeing the need behind the behaviour can be helpful in identifying the real emotions. Ask her questions about her worries, listen fully before providing reassurance.
She may worry about losing the friendships or feel like she will be left out after the virus is gone. You can help so much more by validating her fears and worries about her friends rather than intersecting with adult rationale. Ask her is she feeling lonely and if so how is that for her? Where does she feel that feeling in her body? You could ask her to draw out how she is finding life right now, and sit with her worries and fears.
Listen to the cues, is she lonely or worried about how her post-Covid world will be? Ask her does she have any specific worries. Resist fixing or minimising them, come back with full empathy: 'I can only imagine, that must be very hard for you.' 'I'm sorry to hear you are feeling like that right now.' 'It is really hard, isn't it?'
Increase cuddles and connection. You could suggest a group virtual play date and who she would like to do this with. One-to-one online play dates are also good, the combination can work well. Depending on her age, these are often somewhat monosyllabic and awkward conversations at the start, so ease her expectations and guide her through those initial chats and if she likes them, you can be more in the background thereafter. Imaginative play dates can work well and they can try and play with their toys or in the garden (if you have one), or even paint a picture together.
Mind yourself, this is an exceptionally hard time for parents. If you make one commitment, set aside some time for yourself every day.
Email Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org.