Parents should never underestimate the power of play when it comes to dealing with their child's anxiety - especially during a time of crisis.
The medical, financial and societal impact of Coronavirus is well documented by the 24-hour news cycle, but what about the emotional impact it's having on children?
Children are adapting to new routines including staying home from school, cancelled extracurricular activities and limited socialising with friends and extended family. They may be feeling unsettled, even frightened.
Be Centre is a self-funded charity that provides one-to-one Play Therapy for children aged three to 12 years.
It is dedicated to early intervention, stopping cycles of harm and helping children heal from trauma and major life challenges through play.
Clinical Development Manager at Be Centre, Anna Charleston, explains the power of play during uncertain and difficult times.
"Play is central to a child's physical, mental, social and emotional health. When your child plays, they are acting on instinct, tapping into deep, often subconscious emotions.
"Children often don't have the words to express how they feel. So when they are facing a difficult experience or traumatic event, it's important to let them "play it out". For example, they may draw a picture or act out a scene that gives you an incredible insight into what they're really feeling.
"By playing it out, your child is safely expressing emotions such as fear, confusion, sadness and anger. Play can literally rewire the brain and help your child manage stress and build resilience," Ms Charleston said.
The Be Centre therapists have devised some tips for parents to help their children cope during this uncertain and challenging time:
1. Get down to your child's level - this helps you to be in tune with them - and remove all distractions (e.g. TV, mobiles) so you can focus purely on your child.
2. Allow your child to lead the play - pretend they are the director of the play and you are the actor (although you'll always oversee safety).
3. When your child expresses their feelings, try to name those feelings. For example, "You seem really angry about that" or "You're feeling sad about that".
4. Be inspired by nature - sticks, sand, dirt, shells, rocks, pebbles and water can trigger your child's creativity. Instigate a backyard treasure hunt, create a nature collage or a rock painting.
5. Recyclable objects - Normal recyclable items such as cardboard boxes, string and plastic containers are excellent for creative building (e.g. houses, cars, trains or a rocket ship). Children love collecting 'treasure' to use in this type of play.
6. Children love nurturing and connecting activities, particularly if it involves the senses e.g. finger 'drawing' on each other's back, rubbing lotion on each other's hands, singing or dancing together to a favourite song. This connection to the senses can help children regulate and reduce anxiety.
7. Bubbles can be used for exciting play (e.g. chasing and capturing the bubbles) but they are also ideal when children need soothing or calmness (e.g. lying on the floor and letting the bubbles gently land on them).
8. Messy play is a style of play which allows children to explore their senses. An easy example of messy play is placing cornflour in a container and allowing your child to gradually add water. Your child can use their fingers to start to explore the changing texture (powdery, hard, crumbly, slimy etc.)
9. Arts and Crafts - If you can, provide a range of materials, natural resources and textures. Simply sitting next to your child whilst they draw, paint or create with craft or creating an artwork together can support your child to share their thoughts, feelings or what's meaningful to them.
10. Storytime - Reading or telling a story to your child is a lovely way to connect with them whilst fostering creativity and imagination. Perhaps take turns reading each page or act out the story together to keep things interesting. There are also some great storytime podcasts you can lie back and listen to together.
11. And finally! Children can easily pick up any anxiety from their parents. How do you stay connected and true to yourself when everything is unknown? Long deep belly breaths, taking a bath, watching your favourite TV program, dancing to music.... If you feel good, your kids will feel good.
"My main piece of advice is just to play with your child whenever you can. You don't need commercial toys, just use the resources around you - a table and a sheet can become a magical cave. Sometimes, the simplest things can free a child to use their imagination and spark their creativity.
"Processing what's happening is an important part of recovery, especially for our children. So get out your paints or pencils or play-doh and play it out with them."
For more information, go to the Be Centre Facebook page or www.becentre.org.au
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