Life and Language for Children Amid COVID-19

author/source: Suzanne Ducharme MacFarlane, MS CCC-SLP

Langauge element 5Last month, I wrote an article about some of the myths of language development, with the intention of helping to dispel some of the common misconceptions about language development and our role in helping children become savvy communicators. This month’s article was supposed to be a seamless follow-up, with strategies for supporting children in daily routines. However, like everything else these days, COVID-19 has shifted plans and left us all re-shuffling the deck and re-assessing priorities.

To that end, this month I would like to contribute a short article about helping children navigate this period of time when nothing is familiar and so much is unknown.

life-and-language-children-amid-covid19We know that children are always looking to make sense of the world around them, and so much of their sense of security comes from routine and predictability. When boundaries relax, and routines disappear, this can be a recipe for disaster- meaning big emotions, challenging behaviors and frayed patience. Here are a couple things to remember:

1. Children look to you for meaning and context. I hear so many parents saying that they are trying to keep a sense of normal for their children. Yet with no school/daycare and parents working from home, it is tough to make it seem as if everything is normal. Make the consistent part of this time your demeanor and your sense of calm. Be informed, but not panicked. Turn off the news and play some peaceful music. Reassure them that everything is ok.

2. Don't hide information from them about what is happening. This is an event and time period that we will be talking about for generations. It is ok to use age appropriate language to explain what is happening and why we are not able to see our friends in person. Hiding the truth and trying to minimize things does not match our current tone, and that can be unsettling for kids.

language photo by markus spiske3. Make time for fun things you can do together. There is a lot of emphasis on homeschooling, and parents trying to be teachers. This is often a recipe for disaster, since it blurs the lines between roles. Rather, focus on fun things you can do together, like arts and crafts, gross motor activities and cooking/baking. This is also a great time to get help with cleaning/purging/organizing projects since we are stuck inside for most of the time. Plan 1-2 things per day with lots of free time in between. This is a time when we can slow down a bit and ease off the full-throttle pace we usually keep.

4. Whenever possible, move your bodies and get outside. Do some children’s yoga. Stretching. Walking. Yard clean up. The fresh air and sunshine are good for you and them. Feel your feet on the ground. Fill your healthy lungs with fresh air. There are lots of other great ideas for movement available online. Mix it up and do something different every day.

5. When your child has a meltdown or some challenging behaviors, remember that they are struggling to make sense of what has happened to their world. Thinking about them and viewing whatever the behavior is as an expression of their fear, frustration or struggle to discern what to do or feel can help increase your patience and your compassion. I am not saying don’t address negative behaviors, but more often than not it is about attention, boredom and stress. And children can learn better ways to express their feelings when you can acknowledge them and validate how they are feeling.

6. Extra Credit: DO not feel the need to schedule every minute of every day. As I said above, this is an opportunity to do those projects we have not had time for. But it is also time to REST and to regroup and to connect with those we love. Leave room for boredom and creativity and daydreaming and reading and napping. The brain functions better when it works and rests in cycles. Encourage your kids to expand into the boredom- what can they think of to do? Beyond screens!

I hope this article has given you food for thought, and hopefully some ideas. If you have specific questions, please e-mail me. You can also go to my Facebook page,  for more information and ideas.

Next month I will go back to language facilitation strategies. Wishing you and yours a healthy, safe and quick period of social distancing.

Suzanne Decharme Language and COVID19Bio: 

Suzanne Ducharme MacFarlane’s passion- her Life Work- is to help children and their families make connections and optimize their communication. In her 25 years as a pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist, she has helped thousands of families who faced a challenge in speech and language, communication or feeding. Suzanne has been in private practice since 2001; her offices are located in Norwell, MA. Since 2007, I have been offering traditional speech pathology services combined with Craniosacral Therapy and Reiki, which has led to the development of a philosophy I call holistic speech pathology. This innovative approach looks at the whole child and considers their communication or feeding issues through the lens of their family, and their journey to reach their highest potential. Providing supportive light touch therapies when needed allows for optimal development of the brain and the whole child. In 2016, Rowman and Littlefield published my first book, Childhood Speech and Language Disorders. The book represents the integration of my philosophy with practical and easily applied strategies for helping children learn communication skills, as well as support for parents navigating their own journey. When you work with me, you get much more than a seasoned clinician; you have the opportunity to develop a deep relationship that goes beyond the clinical. You get a partner, a coach and a facilitator for the whole family. You get Results. Experience. Compassion.

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