We’re back in lockdown again, schools are closed to most children again, many families of children and young people with additional needs are struggling again. It’s like we’re in a recurring lockdown ‘Groundhog Day’, but there are things that families as well as churches can do to help everyone to be able to cope better, to make this lockdown a little more manageable. Here are my tips to help us all survive another lockdown:
Try to create a routine, a ‘new normal’, and stick to it as much as possible. Many children with additional needs can struggle with unpredictability and uncertainty, so try to keep a rhythm each day that they can get used to. Encourage them to help you to create this.
Use a visual timetable to help them to know what is happening each day. This could use symbols, if they use these to help with communication, or photos of the different activities, key moments etc. Knowing what is happening now and next is really important.
Do they have a ‘safe space’ if they are feeling overwhelmed? A place they can use to calm and de-stress or re-set? Maybe make a ‘den’ together that they can use for this, with some blankets over a table and some soft cushions inside.
Help them to be able to communicate how they are feeling. It may be through speech, but could also be through writing or drawing something; whatever works for them. Reassure them that you are there for them and however they are feeling you’ll work through it together.
If they have questions about the virus, look for resources to help them understand it better and to know how to stay safe. There are resources in the COVID-19 category of my blog site; click here to find the resources I shared in the first lockdown, which are just as relevant today.
If you are struggling in your faith at this time, maybe are even angry with God, know that that is OK and that you are in good company. David got angry and impatient with God when things were not going well, see Psalms 13, 35 and 42 as examples, but they all end with him praising God. It is important that we bring the tough stuff to God, he wants to hear that from us, but also that we still praise him, learning to dance in the rain.
Look for the positives. A study of the people of Tromsø in Norway found that despite them living in darkness for months at a time during winter, their mental health was excellent because they had learned to focus on the positive things that they could do while it was dark, like cozying up around a warm fire with some cocoa, looking at the night sky, or putting some candles or pretty lights on, rather than the things that they couldn’t do. There’s a practical and spiritual lesson for us in that right there. The Danish and Norwegians call that sense of coziness Hygge (Hue-Guh) and it’s related to the English word ‘hug’. We could all do with giving ourselves a cozy hug at the moment couldn’t we?
Have a look at ‘One Thousand Gifts’ by Ann Voskamp – spend a few moments each day thinking of three things that have gone well, three things to give thanks for, and write them down in a journal. The day might have been a disaster, but if just for a few moments we can think of those three things and be grateful to God for them it can change our mindset and help us to look for these positive moments every day, as well as giving us a resource of good memories to tap into. If you can manage to do this for a year you end up with one thousand positive moments or ‘gifts’.
Make real contact; not just an email or pointing to a Facebook page, but a check-in phone call. Ask how families are doing and be willing to listen to what they say.
What practical help can be provided? Are they shielding? Do they need shopping done for them, or prescriptions collected? Would a hot meal left on the doorstep be appreciated? Would a spare laptop be useful for online school? What other support do they need that can be practically provided by our church community during lockdown?
Make sure you have a list of Christian support agencies that you can connect families with where needed, e.g. CAP (Christians Against Poverty), Care for the Family, food banks etc.
Involve families if you’re doing online church, create opportunities for them to participate, don’t leave them out. This is a great opportunity to practice inclusion and belonging for all!
And a final word from a mum of a child with additional needs:
“Notice us. We will always cope and be ‘OK’ because we don’t have any other choice. See beyond the bravado and offer us something to make sure we know you’re taking us with you. It could be as simple as noticing that someone isn’t at church (online or in-building) and calling them to check that everything is OK? If things are tough for us, drop your sermon notes round with a cappuccino sachet and a cake so that we can ‘take five’ and do church together. Mostly though, just notice us.”
I hope these tips and ideas will help you to cope with this lockdown a little better, whether you are a family with a child or young person with additional needs, or a church that is reaching out and supporting families. Come back next month, when we’ll be looking at more ways to help you to be ‘All Inclusive’!
Mark Arnold, also known as the Additional Needs Blogfather, is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’ – a learning and support community for youth and children’s workers, parents and organisations.