How to Help Your Child & Family Come to Terms with this New Reality

On May 4th it was announced that New Jersey schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year. For many, this is an unsettling time. Kids, adolescents, and teens are missing their peers, teachers, classrooms, sports teams, and clubs. Peer interaction and play are fundamental to their development, and it looks very different right now.

Here are some things that you can do to help support your child

– Create a visual schedule or routine for your child. Routine signals safety and supports children in their learning and development.

  • Incorporate play, physical activity, connecting time, and if accessible time outside

– Signal to your child that they are able to talk to you about unpleasant and complex emotions by asking and encouraging them to. Acknowledge the reality of the current situation and that it’s difficult and that as a family you all may experience loss and grief about our new reality.

  • Ask questions (about what they know about what is going on, if they have unanswered questions, etc.
  • Talk about their feelings (such as missing their friends, boredom, irritability)
  • Draw what’s on their mind
  • Journal

Create a daily, possibly at dinner time, family ritual of reflection of the highs and lows in one’s day. This can be called “slam dunks and misses,” “roses and thrones,” or any other creative visual you can come up with that relates to your family. Normalize mistakes or misses as part of learning. This helps support children be less afraid of making mistakes.

It may be a good time for you to consider seeking additional support such as therapy

  • If your child is demonstrating frequent or extremely different behavior than what is average for them
  • If you would like support in opening up communication with your child to talk about difficult things such as loss and grief

Symptoms such as irritability, body tension, outbursts, shutting down, frequent headaches, frequent stomach aches, sleep disturbance, mood swings, low mood, hopelessness, sadness, anger, stress, and worry can be warning signs that your child is struggling.

Some of these symptoms are to be expected if there are lots of changes recently in their life, but if they are frequent or preventing your child from their normal day to day activities more days than not, such as completing school work, engaging in and enjoying play, adequate eating or sleeping behaviors, and talking with their peers (which may look like video chatting or phone calling friends while we are quarantined), then therapy can help.

Before setting up your child’s first therapy session it’s important to do a few things so they can benefit the most out of it. Check Out Taking Your Child or Teen to Therapy blog post.

Click here for more information on on play therapy.

About The Author
Faith Ulsh Joana Couto, LAC Hello! I’m a therapist at Olive Branch Therapy Group. I am a Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC). I received my undergraduate degree from Rutgers University majoring in psychology and minoring in Women and Gender Studies. My graduate degree is from The College of New Jersey, where I completed the Clinical Mental Health Track as well as the educational requirements for the Addiction and Marriage, Couple, and Family Therapy Track. I’ve been in practice since 2018.