All of us have different feelings about crowds. Some people feel lost in a crowd; other people feel sheltered by it. But in the pandemic, the way we think about crowds has certainly changed, and constant changes in safety rules can mean big feelings. Give yourself and your children permission to feel whatever you’re feeling, and the time you need to work through it. But offer reassurance that the situation has changed. You can say: “You’re right. Before it wasn’t safe to go to a birthday party. But now things are different, and it’s safe for you to do.”
• You are your kids’ best role model. Remind everyone it’s important to continue to practice healthy habits: covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough, or cough and sneeze into your elbow; washing your hands frequently.
• Follow the official guidelines for where you live. And don’t feel pressured into rushing things. It’s okay for your family to go at its own pace. Masks? Distancing? Elbow bumps? Hugs? Remind your children that different people will have different levels of comfort. And that’s okay.
• When your kids start feeling a little overwhelmed, encourage them to take some deep belly breaths. You can do it with them: Breathe slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. Repeat a few times.
• Encourage your kids to channel their inner super hero. Invite them to strike a pose, and say out loud, “I’ve got this!”
• Always have an exit strategy. Make sure your children know they can tell you when they’ve had enough. Wherever you go and whatever you do, have a plan in place for how to leave, where to go, what to do next.
• Kids everywhere are learning how to be together again, so it’s not hard to imagine that issues may arise. Make sure you listen to your children’s concerns, and watch them for signs of anxiety. You can even encourage them to give their worries a number on a scale, say, of 1 to 5. Be alert to any bullying.
• Be prepared for possible separation anxiety–on everyone’s part! Kids may have gotten used to having you around a lot more; you have probably spent a lot more time at home, too. Suddenly both schools and offices are open again. It’s not going to feel smooth all at once.
• Create a specific plan that lets your family adjust in a relaxed way. Get used to things one step at a time. Reframe stepping out into the neighborhood as an adventure. It’s fun to try new things together, or to go back to the routines you missed.
• Reintroduce activities gradually, as children demonstrate what they can easily handle. You don’t have to do everything at once–in fact, you shouldn’t! You’re allowed to say “no” to invitations and experiences you’re not ready for yet.
Most of all, remember that getting back into the swing of things is going to take practice for everyone. But don’t worry! Gradually things will start to feel normal again and being with friends and neighbors will be the joy it has always been.