After the fear and insecurity caused by the pandemic, we have seen how little by little it has come to be controlled thanks to vaccines. Also how serious cases of covid-19 decrease every day. For adults, this allows us to recover our almost “normal” life. But in the case of the smallest (boys and girls under 10 years of age) it is more complex. His universe changes again: suddenly it is no longer necessary to carry out such strict measures as in the last two years, and we can interact without restrictions with friends, colleagues and family.
In their day, the children were able to adapt to the pandemic situation and accept the rules of coexistence imposed during it to prevent the spread of the virus. How do we help them now to get used to this normal situation?
It is not easy for everyone to internalize security and trust again. In the specific case of masks, there are many children who still do not feel safe to take them off, despite the fact that it is now allowed, for example, in schools.
These ages are particularly vulnerable due to their limited understanding of things and poor coping strategies. In addition, they have experienced a prolonged state of isolation at home and have lived for a long time under very strict rules in which, even when they returned to school, they were not able to interact freely with their peers.
It makes sense then that some are now afraid to be around their “little friends” without protection. As always in times of crisis and change, the goal with children is to contain, calm, inform, normalize and comfort.
The little ones must be given information appropriate to their age, using short phrases, always from the adult of reference, giving them space to cry or scream without overflowing. Help them release energy.
When the child can speak, he should be helped to express his feelings and put them in context. For example, tell how it feels to live with his “little friends” in the nursery classrooms and play in the park with other children.
Between 3 and 6 years: clothe and normalize
When we refer to children between 3 and 6 years old, it is important to ensure comfort and rest, show signs of affection and facilitate play and drawing as means of expressing what happened, what it has meant to them and how they feel now that they can Play freely with your peers.
In this age group, when they are given the freedom to go out for recess, for example, it is something totally new for them, because they had not done it before. You can go to their imaginary world to distract them.
We must inform them honestly and consistently, answering all their questions and trying to find out how much information they have. It is convenient to make them see the difference between dreams, their fears and reality. Normalize their feelings and help them put a name to their emotions, and emphasize especially with the most fearful, help them adapt to this moment in which they take off their masks and touch their little friends.
From 6 to 10 years: balance and emotions
With children from 6 to 10 years old, we realize that they have greater cognitive development and that they are already of school age. They will be very sensitive to the information given to them and will be very attentive to the coherence between the speech and the emotional tone of the adult. Be careful because they have a special sensitivity to discover inconsistencies.
It is important to help them contain their emotions and achieve a balance between what they feel and what they can understand. Help with closeness and body contact. Continue using games and drawing as means of expression.
Calm down with the tone of voice, as in the rest of the ages, and encourage them to find a previous situation that they have been able to overcome. In this way they realize that they are capable of achieving small challenges.
It is very important to report what is happening in a simple but concise way: the danger seems to have passed and we can gradually lead a normal life.
We must bear in mind that when good news is offered, they may react by wanting to talk about it. During the past time the information was not positive and they preferred not to talk about it. Now it will be gently insisted, trying to create a balance between distraction and coping. It is important to take into account how much information they have received, from whom, and check it as much as possible.
Minors will experience the situation from the perspective of their caregivers, hence the importance of them receiving adequate information to understand the emotional needs of children.
It must be adapted to each child and their age. Choose the right moment and prepare the child: it is important to let him know what we are going to talk about. “Are you afraid to take off your mask, right? Let’s talk about it for a bit.”
We also have to make sure that we will have the time available to attend to your reaction and accompany you without rushing. After a first conversation, the child asks himself questions for which in later moments he will need truthful and age-appropriate answers.
We should never force you to remove your mask. Little by little, he will internalize that he can go without her and nothing negative will happen.
Space and time to adapt
Let us bear in mind that the emotional responses of children who have lived through this pandemic, and who now face a normal situation, are adjusted to the facts and need time to adapt. In the event that these emotional responses continue without diminishing their intensity, specialized psychological care will be used.
And let’s not forget that our children are the reflection of what they hear and see in their reference adults. They dance the same dance. So let’s teach them to dance properly and at an acceptable pace.
Author Bio: Maria Jesus Hernandez Jimenez is Director of the Master’s Degree in Third Generation Psychological Therapies. Psychologist specializing in Clinical Psychology at the International University of Valencia