Helping children play at home to cope with COVID-19 anxiety

The COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented for adults as well as children, the latter being more vulnerable to its adverse effects. The World Health Organization in March 2020 stated that disrupted routines, separation from friends, anxiety and uncertainty are some of the effects the pandemic has had on the kids across geographies. Ensuring they maintain a routine, giving them more attention and love, reassuring them and helping them relax and play are ways to support them in coping with anxiety and stress. 

Occupational Therapist and Creative Arts Therapist Caroline Essame shares in her webinar Stay at Home Play at Home — Why Play Matters that Play and creating something make children use their hands, in turn overcoming some of the mounting anxiety. Furthermore, children try to make sense of their surroundings and open up to sharing as well as validating their feelings. The specialist in play-based learning states that there are no rights and wrongs in play. “Play is a symbol and metaphor,” she emphasizes and elaborates how it can be used by parents or caregivers. 

Don’t be directive in your questions
Keeping questions open-ended invites children to express their feelings and thoughts. If a child draws a picture or sets up a world while playing, it helps to ask, questions like, ‘Does the picture have a story?’ instead of ‘Are you upset by the fact that you can’t go out?’ Sharing helps them be more reflective, understand their emotional world and build socio-emotional skills that validate their feelings. 

Avoid directing children's play
As there’s a feeling of not being in control, children need to be given the sense of control of their own stories. Children need to work through their own language and one must not be too literal. Let them make mistakes and avoid correcting or improving their set-up. The game or creation needs to reflect the child’s ability and passion and not an adult’s expectation. “At the moment, they (children) need to be the directors and designers of their world,” Caroline advises.   

Create safe spaces
The therapist recommends using playful activities to help children cope. Since safe spaces are the most important aspect for children at this point, this activity is all about creating them. You can use a recycled box or a food container for this. Ask the child to decorate it outside. They'll fill it and think about what they can keep safe. 

Create a world
Similar to creating safe spaces, this activity includes making children create their world in a box or even on the carpet. They can add their favorite objects and have control of the world. It will also build their imagination, and help them feel that they can have some control over their future.

Grow something together
Nature is karmic and releases happy chemical serotonin. Looking at greenery calms the nervous system. However, since one cannot step outside and if there’s no greenery around, growing plants is a great activity. This allows kids to learn nurturing, patience and transformation.

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