Dana Rosenbloom is an expert in early childhood development and the founder of Dana’s Kids, a consulting business that empowers families to build happy and emotionally healthy families. With a Master’s Degree in Infant and Parent Development and Early Intervention from Bank Street College, Dana has worked both as a general and special education early childhood teacher and privately helping families implement strategies that position their children for success. We caught up with Dana to learn how parents can help their children navigate the uncertainty stemming from the current pandemic.
We recently spoke with Dana about parenting questions related to COVID-19.
Q: What part of your professional training or life has best prepared you to help parents during the current COVID-19 Pandemic?
A: I’m a person who does really well in a crisis. I tend to be the person who comes in when parents say, “I thought this behavior or issue was going to stop and it hasn’t.” I’m good at saying, “I’ve got you. We’re going to make a plan. We’re going to move forward together and figure out a solution.”
Q: What are some of the questions you are getting from parents at this time?
A: I work with infants all the way up to children who are 9 years old, so there’s a lot of different things happening. Some parents are feeling like they are little lost on what to be putting their energy towards right now. They’re asking a lot of questions: “Should I be focusing on development? Does the routine matter? What’s worth the fight and effort right now?”
Existing in crisis mode is not sustainable for a long period of time, so they want to know what the reality is and where they should focus their attention and time. As parents in the midst of a pandemic, we can allow a bit more room for meltdowns or physical activity, but there still needs to be points that don’t shift, like not getting physical when we’re mad, always being safe with our bodies and using our words to say what we need. Figure out where those consistent touchstones are, because that’s what will help your child manage the feelings that come up from what’s happening now.
Q: How can we explain the current pandemic to children? Should we even try?
This is a tricky question, especially because in crisis mode we often give more information than we should, or at the other end of the spectrum, not enough. A child’s age and personality have to be taken into consideration when tailoring information for them. You want to try to give information that helps your child understand without overwhelming them. Much of the time when children bring up tough topics, I recommend asking a question back to understand what they mean so that we can answer questions through their lens. An example is “Can you tell me more about that?” or “I’m not sure what you mean. Could you please explain?” It’s important that we take the onus on ourselves as grownups. We need to remind our children who are feeling especially anxious about doing things right now because of COVID-19 that you are aware of what is going on in the world. You can say “I’m your grown up and it’s my job to keep you safe. I’m going to listen to the helpers and make choices that are going to be safe for our family.”
Q: How much should we tell our children about COVID-19? Is there a risk in trying to explain too much?
A: Most parents are making choices that they think are best for children, but we should still be cautious about how much information we are giving. It’s a tricky situation similar to how to explain death to children. Young children tend to generalize and blame themselves so we want them to be empowered and stay healthy, but we don’t want them to have undue pressure focused on themselves. Instead we can communicate to them that we can focus on what the helpers are telling us to do.
Q: How should parents handle behavioral issues at this time?
A: Everyone is going through a transition so there has to be some empathy for that. The novelty of being at home with mom and dad is wearing off. There needs to be room for a little more flexibility than usual and a lot of time for connection. The connection provides reassurance and helps children feel safe. Maintain consistency with expectations. There is definitely room for the things that you might not have allowed before and that’s okay. Fighting the battles worth winning, is always a concept I discuss with parents, but is especially true right now. We want to be available to help children express and manage their emotions, while also setting appropriate limits with behavior.
But predictability in your routine and expectations is going to help children of all ages feel safe. A great way to do this is with “anchoring activities.” There is some consistency in a routine that makes children of all ages feel safe. They need a few things during the day that are predictable. It helps to figure out what you can be consistent with during the day to help your child manage feelings.
Q: Do you think that there will be long-term impacts on children as a result of the quarantine?
A: I predict there will be some separation anxiety when it comes to feeling safe in environments outside of the home once this is over. So, once we have a sense of when we’ll go back to being with other people, it will be important to have conversations to prepare children.There has to be a balance, because anxiety will bubble up but we want to give children the sense that they are okay and that their feelings are okay. We want them to know their feelings are manageable and that we will help them figure out how to get through the discomfort and feel safe.