Response to Help Parents

The following are my responses to requests from China Play Therapy colleagues in their quest to help parents and children.

By Dr. Joyce Mills
1: Teach parents how to explain the epidemic to their children. How to explain to our children: We need to stay at home for a long time and even delay returning to school.

Reassure children:

An epidemic is like a sudden & invisible storm. It begins small and then can get stronger for a while as it passes through. It may take a long time until it does. The important thing is to stay safe inside and protected until we hear the message that the storm is over and that it is safe to come out. Sometimes it takes a long time for the storm to pass, so we will be together and stay safe. We can image rainbows after the storm is over.

Parents can say, “You know bears hibernate through the winter. They don’t come out until the winter is over and it’s time for Spring. Bears are very smart. We can pretend to be bears.  We can even sleep like a bear.
2: Help child release stress and anxiety, and even fear.

Parents can use the My All Better Book activity – Drawing activity to help children release fear, reduce stress:

You only need blank paper, crayons or pencils.

Ask child to

  • Draw a picture of their fear, worry, stress.
  • Next, give your child another blank piece of paper and ask him/her to draw a picture how their fear, worry or stress looks feeling “all better.”
  • Next have your child look at both pictures and draw a symbol or something they know would change Picture #1 to Picture #2.

Hang the “All Better” picture near their bed or wherever they sleep.

If nightmares:  Superhero to the Rescue

  • Ask your child to draw a picture of the bad dream.
  • Next, ask to draw their favorite Cartoon Superhero they know could chase away the bad dream. Draw their “super powers.”
  • Finally, ask them to draw how the dream looks now with the super hero’s help.

3: If children cry and want to go out to play, how should we explain to children?

With care and comfort in your voice, reassure your child/children it’s like a “sudden invisible storm” so we need to stay safe until the storm is over. Then offer ways to use their imagination to play:

Create a Memory Bottle:

They can draw a bottle on a blank sheet of paper. Then ask them to draw memories they enjoyed when playing outside. Let them know “we can bring what’s outside inside through our memories.

You can ask them to take three “Magic Happy Breaths” before they begin drawing. Letting their memories of the smells, sounds, tastes, feelings, come into their memories. Then draw them on the paper. After they draw or even while they are doing so, they can share their memories.

It’s really helpful if you do this activity along with your child if possible. This can help renourish yourselves as parents as well.
4: Under what symptoms should children seek professional psychological support?

When a parent sees extremely unusual behavior such as extreme angry outbursts, sleep problems, eating problems. In all cases, also contact your doctor to make sure your child is well.
5: How to use this time to improve parent-child relationship? How to promote effective and healthy attachment?

  • Look at baby/family-pictures together. Tell stories related to the photos. Positive memories of birthdays, celebrations, trips/vacations.
  • Cook together using favorite recipes. Baking cookies, bread, making soup or any other favorite recipe they like. Take turns adding ingredients and mixing. Tell stories about where you learned the recipe…book, grandma, aunty, etc.
  • Draw pictures of things that make your heart happy. Then tell the stories connected to those things.
  • Sing songs together, rock little ones.

6: Directly teach parents some effective mini-games to help children through difficult times. Note: Use readily available materials, as no one can go out and buy things.

Hide and seek: Use any small object or toy and take turns hiding it someplace in your home/apartment. One hides it and one finds it. This is an easy game if you have more than one child. After hiding the object/s, count or use a timer to whatever number you feel is reasonable for the age of your child. You can hide two or three things as well. While counting, you or your child looks for the object until it’s found.  It’s fun, easy, and you don’t need anything special. Let your child choose the items they want to hide. There is a metaphor in this game as well: We hide, seek and find what is important to us.

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My blessings to each of you,

Dr. Joyce Mills