Family routines and traditions important for kids’ mental health during COVID-19 pandemic

Medical Watch

Every year kids look forward to Halloween and shortly thereafter they start thinking of turkey dinner for Thanksgiving and start making lists for the holidays in December.

But this year so many parents have had to say, not this year, no traditional birthday parties or play dates, no big gatherings, and for a little one, that can have a huge impact.

Dr. Colleen Cicchetti is a pediatric psychologist at Lurie Children’s Hospital

“I would say it’s super important to have all those traditional activities in our lives,” she said.

Just this week the Centers for Disease Control came up with guidelines for safe trick-or-treating. Because the alternative, canceling Halloween can be pretty scary and worrisome as keeping kids safe from COVID-19.

“When we think about kids and safety, we talk about physical and emotional safety,” Cicchetti said. “So when we think about what it really does for kids, we think about providing those key relationships in kids lives as well as creating that safety. So it’s not just the physical safety, but it’s the emotional safety that says the world is safe and there are predictable things that are going to happen at certain times.”

Even school changes have been a learning experience for parents and their children. And while we don’t know long term effects, pediatric psychologists say they do know routine is key. So make your own at home.

“We think we’re doing one thing and then two weeks later, they’re doing something else,” Cicchetti said. “We’re all watching and seeing how that’s impacting kids, so those are those daily routines that are important.”

It’s even more critical for special needs children.

“Think it’s hard enough to ask parents to become teachers with is not something we’re trained to do,” Cicchetti  said. “But to ask them to become special needs teachers and to ask them to address all of the individual differences that their students and children might have is really hard.”

But through the tough times, the way for kids to feel comforted is to have their parents’ emotions in check.

“Parents are often providing a lot of cues to kids about how to manage a difficult or new situation. So if parents are angry and sad or disappointed around the loss of a holiday, they are going to convey that to their kids,” Cicchetti said.

So make the holiday the best it can be. Put up the tree or light the candles on the menorah. The changes can shed a new light on the importance of family.

“I always look for ways we can say to kids, ‘Here’s what’s going to happen. Here’s how we’re going to make it different. What are your ideas?’” Cicchetti said. “Engage them in it and then say what can we do to make sure we keep some of this going forward? Because there may be some lessons that come out of all this that could benefit kids.”

The greatest lesson can be gratitude; Thankful for a new way to collect sweets at Halloween and express thanks at Thanksgiving. This is one year. The way parents handle it with their kids can last a lifetime. 

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