Playful ways to help kids with coronavirus fears

I have started hearing about kids who have developed fears surrounding the coronavirus. It isn’t surprising.

They have no doubt heard about the illness by now. They might not understand the specifics, but they can sense the vibe around them.

Things that are a part of kids’ normal everyday lives are suddenly changing. And that can be really UNSETTLING for them, leaving them feeling confused and frightened.

Even if we’ve been careful not to let our kids overhear our worried conversations, the process of “neuroception” enables them to detect others’ stress levels through tone of voice, facial expression and body language.

While kids might be experiencing this in their bodies as agitation and tension, their thinking brain goes about making meaning of it. And it is understandable that they might come to feel fear (or anger) in relation to this new virus.

Of course, it’s important to talk with our children and give them age appropriate information about the virus, and to reassure them of the things we are doing to keep our family safe.

But another way to help kids to who are feeling “threatened” (afraid/scared/worried) by this virus is to do some POWER REVERSAL PLAY!

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When our nervous system detects a threat, our sympathetic nervous system is switched on “high”. There are lots of stress hormones pumping around our bodies that, from an evolutionary perspective, are intended to prepare us to fight or run away from a predator (“Fight or Flight”).

Power reversal games can help by giving kids the opportunity:

💥 To experience feeling powerful (“safe”).

💥 To use their large muscles to either “fight” or “flee”, expending the sympathetic activation from their bodies.

💥 To laugh naturally, which also reduces stress hormones in the body, as well as producing “feel good” endorphins.

The sense of SAFETY that we are conveying through our body language when we play, which requires the “Social Engagement” part of our nervous system to be switched on, also helps our child to feel safe.

I have two games for you today that I feel could be really helpful.

🤪 PERSONIFYING THE CORONAVIRUS

Both of these games involve an adult “personifying” the virus, but in a particularly incompetent and silly way.

We want to portray the virus as slow, weak, uncoordinated, and generally foolish, so that our children can feel powerful in comparison.

We can give the virus a cute name if we like, perhaps “Connie” or “Cliff”, to make it appear even less threatening.

Silly faces, silly voices, silly postures and ways of moving can all be really helpful to give this character a hopeless – therefore “safe” – persona.

I’m imagining a big “oaf” could be a great way to characterise the virus, lumbering around the house. But we can make it whatever we like.

If we’re feeling particularly creative, we could even dress up or make a silly mask. Perhaps even a crown (corona = crown, in latin).

Making sure that we are feeling grounded and calm first, we can introduce the game by saying playfully, “How about we play a silly Corona Virus game?”, and only proceed if our children are keen.

🏃‍♂️ “FLEEING” FROM THE CORONAVIRUS – “THE CHASE AND CAN’T CATCH” GAME

The “chase and can’t catch” game is fashioned on the idea of “fleeing” from the “threat”.

We can say, “I’m Connie/Cliff the Coronavirus, and I’m going to catch you!”. Then we chase our child (or children), but no matter how hard we try, we just can’t catch them!

If we have another adult to play, they can join in, yelling, “Oh no! It’s the coronavirus!”. They can pretend to be afraid too, running away in a silly way, with arms waving above their heads.

Then we try and we try, and we just can’t catch any of them! We’re tripping over our own feet, running into walls, getting confused, and just acting generally hopeless!

We act shocked at our kids’ speed and agility, and exasperated that we can’t catch them.

To add a bit of excitement, we might have a few near misses, where we almost catch them.

Our kids feel powerful in contrast to the virus they are afraid of, because they can out-run and out-smart us.

They are moving their large muscles, shifting any sympathetic (“Fight or Flight”) energy in their bodies.

And they are laughing naturally!! If you find something that particularly makes them giggle, do more of that!

This game can help us all to release tension from our bodies, and to feel more connected to each other.

🙅‍♀️ “FIGHTING” THE CORONAVIRUS – SOCK FIGHT!

This next game is about giving our kids the opportunity to “fight” the virus, and one of my favourite types of “fighting” games is a sock fight.

Again in character, we can grab a bunch of socks and challenge our child (or children) by saying, “I’m Connie/Cliff the Coronavirus! I bet you can’t beat me in a sock war!”.

And then, from across the other side of the room, we can start a sock fight by gently lobbing socks towards our child (or children).

Remember here – our aim is to be weak and incompetent. We want to give our child the impression that we’re trying really hard, but have no success hitting the mark.

We can act frustrated that we just can’t land a hit.

And when our child lands a hit on us, we can fall over dramatically, in awe of their strength and skill!

Again, as well as giving the child a sense of power over the virus they are fearing, this game is moving the sympathetic activation through their large muscles, and getting them laughing naturally.

And if you’re not into sock fights, another great option is pillow fighting!

These games are only fun and helpful if our child feels SAFE.

So, if at any time your child appears frightened by your characterisation of the virus, you can make it feel “safer” by acting even more goofy. And perhaps they might prefer to chase you trying to kill you with imaginary disinfectant spray (or soap and water)!

You can also explore whether they might prefer to play the “scary” virus themselves, chasing you as you run away scared! And maybe “inviting” them to push you over onto a bed or sofa (by saying with a wink, “Oh no! I hope you don’t push me over!”).

I’d love to hear how you and your kids are faring in this unprecedented time. And if you have go with these games, let us know how it goes and how your children are feeling afterwards.

With love,
Sam

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