COVID-19 pandemic has further concretized the effects of home conditions on a child’s growth and development. Families, where things have earlier been in good shape, may have suffered greatly and a family member’s illness or unemployment, for example, may have upset many children’s sense of psychological safety, especially if their feelings and needs have not been met in this difficult situation.

On the other hand, families, where the situation has been challenging even before the pandemic began, are in an even more precarious position and the problems have been exacerbated as the whole family has ended up being home.

A child who has to take care of the emotions of their parents or other family members is unable to deal with his or her own difficult feelings and needs the support of an adult.

To put it briefly, the psychological safety of many children is challenged at the moment. Often the child reacts to even a small change and also notices if problems are tried to hide from him or her. We easily think that problems that are not said out loud or feelings that are hidden actually disappear, but in reality, they are often encountered later in life with even greater force.

Children need a supportive adult to deal with difficult emotions and unpleasant experiences in a constructive way because they themselves have not yet developed this ability.

Whether some long-term problems that have started already early on or the stress and anxiety caused by the coronavirus situation, it is extremely important that the child understands that aggressive behaviour or harming another mentally, physically or in any other way is not justified under any circumstances or no matter how angry or sad they themselves may feel.

The well-being and psychological safety of every child are hugely important, which is why we want to offer a few tips for teachers and parents in this extremely challenging situation.

Expressing and responding to emotions

Children’s emotional reactions can be very intense and heavy to deal with. It is important that the child feels that there is space for his or her feelings and that he or she receives support and security from the adult even during moments of greater emotional bursts. 

Start concretely by saying the child’s feelings out loud, for example, “I can tell that you are sad and annoyed, but we will overcome this together”. By reacting calmly and acceptingly to the child’s emotions, the child learns that the different emotions are fully accepted, it is essential to feel them and then practice letting go. Acting in the power of emotion is often a bad idea and that is why it is important to learn to calm yourself first for example by closing your eyes for a moment and taking a deep breath a few times before acting.

Teaching this to a child can however be very challenging if one’s own emotional skills are poor and that is why it is important to consider one’s own abilities and what may need some more practice.

Another important thing to consider is doing I really give space to the child’s feelings or am  I pushing my own feelings into for the child to take care of. Hiding your emotions from a child is pointless, as children usually do notice if an adult is feeling down or stressed. What may help here would be telling the child the truth, for example, “I am sad now but everything will work out at the end, and it is not the child’s job to worry about the feelings of adults”.

Bullying leaves eternal traces

Bullying leaves a lasting imprint on a person. When strong feelings or one’s own bad feelings escalate into hurting words or actions directed at another person, one has gone too far. In this task, the idea is really to concretize to the children how their own evil actions can never be taken back once they are done and how the other person will suffer from them for the rest of their lives. You need plain paper for the task and calm space where the children are able to focus on the task.

Look at the blank smooth paper first. What does it look like? Then take the paper and fold it in half, then fold it in half again, and fold it in half. Do this for as long as you can. Look at the paper, what does it look like now? Open the paper from the folds, and look at the paper as it looks now with all the creases visible. Imagine that every fold was a hurting thing someone did or said. Every evil thing has left its mark on the paper.

Now try to get the folds out of the paper together with your fingers. Some words and deeds are so hurting that they are hard to get away with. Paper never becomes quite the same again, the traces remain in it forever. The same thing happens when you insult another person. Your own words or acts of violence can never be taken back and the scars will remain in another forever.