“You are probably having some big feelings right now. It’s OK. Everyone is. It’s totally normal!”
These words are among the first in a new book written by a local Catholic, and they’re meant to reassure children who may be feeling scared, anxious or sad about the ways their lives have changed since the novel coronavirus arrived in New York state. In April, former school counselor Elizabeth Pearson wrote the book You Can Cope: Coping Skills for Kiddos During the COVID-19 Pandemic and read it aloud in a video she posted on Facebook.
“I felt that children needed emotional support and coping mechanisms to help promote positive mental health during these scary and unprecedented times,” Pearson told the Catholic Courier.
In her book and the corresponding video Pearson, who belongs to Church of the Transfiguration in Pittsford, acknowledges the feelings of anger, sadness, loneliness and fear children may be feeling. She reassures children that these feelings are normal, even though they are not comfortable.
“That’s when we use coping skills to help us through them,” Pearson wrote, explaining that coping skills are the tools people use to deal with “hard stuff.”
She then proceeded to suggest several ways children could cope with their feelings about the pandemic. Children who feel scared, angry or lonely may want to try:
‚Ä¢ talking to a trusted adult;
‚Ä¢ listening to calming music;
‚Ä¢ squeezing a stress ball or stuffed animal;
‚Ä¢ practicing deep breathing (in through the nose and out through the mouth, slowly);
‚Ä¢ writing or drawing a picture about how they’re feeling;
‚Ä¢ punching or screaming into a pillow;
‚Ä¢ calling, texting or video chatting with a friend or family member — with a parent’s permission; or
‚Ä¢ writing a letter or drawing a picture to mail to a friend or family member.
After writing and illustrating the book and posting the video of herself reading it, Pearson heard from a number of parents, who said they and their children had found the video helpful. In response, Pearson wrote and illustrated more books on various coping mechanisms and set up a YouTube channel, aptly named “Coping Skills for Kiddos.”
“My goal in creating the YouTube channel, and the books I read on it, is to help families build coping skills and resilience in their children so that they can live through this very uncertain time with a sense of peace and capability,” Pearson explained. “There have been many changes and challenges put forth for children in a very short time period, and both parents and children are dealing with emotional situations they have never before encountered.”
Parents who are worried about how their children are dealing with their emotions should simply interact with their children and observe their demeanor and behavior, Pearson suggested.
“Warning signs that children could be struggling with mental health are really just any marked changes in demeanor or behavior,” she said.
Each child responds to stress in his or her own way, according to the World Health Organization. Some may become clingy, anxious, angry or agitated, while others may withdraw or begin wetting the bed.
Children are remarkably resilient, however, and with the love of family, healthy coping mechanisms and a good support system, they are amazingly adaptable in many difficult situations, Pearson added. There are several steps parents should take to provide that support system, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. This professional organization of pediatricians recommends parents:
‚Ä¢ answer their children’s questions about the pandemic simply and honestly;
‚Ä¢ recognize and acknowledge their children’s feelings;
‚Ä¢ help children keep in touch with their loved ones;
‚Ä¢ model how to manage feelings;
‚Ä¢ offer extra hugs;
‚Ä¢ reassure them that the situation will improve;
‚Ä¢ keep healthy routines for such activities as bedtime, mealtime, chores and family time;
‚Ä¢ use positive discipline and avoid physical punishment;
‚Ä¢ redirect children’s bad behavior; and
‚Ä¢ set aside special one-on-one time with each child
Parents are heroes right now in this time of pandemic, and their love and guidance is what will get children through the current crisis, Pearson said.
“I pray that parents will feel God’s peace and love as they navigate this very difficult time with their children and also that they realize how strong and amazing they are just for being who they are,” she said.