Our “unprecedented” time continues, as we all work to live as best we can in our new and evolving “normal”. We have all experienced change and loss of many familiar things. Although we are going through this pandemic together, our individual experiences are vastly different. We may feel joy, sadness, anger, loneliness, anxiety or even relief at times. We may also have times when we can’t quite put our finger on how we are feeling, or look back on previous reactions and know we were not quite ourselves.
With children, who don’t have a frame of reference, and who sense adult stresses and concerns, feelings may be even more confusing and difficult to manage right now. They need our help navigating this new and changing world around them. Here are some key things to remember.
Children may show emotions differently
Children may not have the words to clearly express how they feel, so they may be just as surprised as you are at the intensity of their emotions. Previously calm children might begin to throw temper tantrums, or children who were independent might become extra clingy. They may cry when they look at a picture of a friend or loved one that they haven’t seen in a while, or simply cry because you ran out of their favorite cereal. You might notice them having difficulty sleeping or eating more.
As parents, we are all asking ourselves how we can help our children cope with these new feelings. I think one of the first steps is acknowledging our own response. Talk to your children about how you are feeling as you respond to the changes around you and ask them to do the same. Our children are looking to us for cues on how to relate to the world around them. We need to validate their feelings. When I noticed my daughter looking at a picture of her cousins and crying, I told her that I understood how much she missed them and we were able to talk about the loneliness she has felt being away from family and friends.
Children need help in learning to process feelings
The second step is addressing ways to cope with the feelings. For a child expressing a lot of frustration or anxiety, it might mean talking through all that is going on around them, addressing fears, and identifying areas of their life in which they have control. It might also mean finding ways to express those feelings in productive ways like playing soccer in the yard or going on a walk. They could also try creative pursuits like journaling, playing music, painting or challenging themselves to learn something new. Teaching our children how to manage their feelings now is going to help them navigate difficult life events in the future.
I was playing a game with my daughter and she wasn’t sure if the number she was looking at was a 6 or a 9, and it made me realize that perspective is everything. Frequently we see things differently depending on how we are oriented to the world around us. Beyond our current situation, as parents, we have a lifetime of experiences and beliefs that have shaped us. We all have different ways to process and handle stress and change. Let’s begin to be aware of how our words and actions affect our children and try to understand their perspective.
Remember that we’re all struggling right now
Finally, we should try to remember that we are all feeling a bit more vulnerable and maybe even a little lost. We need to try to let go of what we can’t control and give each other a little more grace. We can spread kindness, listen to others, offer support, provide comfort and encourage one another. We all need to come out on the other side of this not just physically healthy, but mentally healthy as well. Our children need supportive relationships and a safe place to express how they are feeling, and we are in the unique position to reassure and support them. So the next time there is a meltdown over a glass of spilled juice, or the kids are tackling each other in the other room, remember that you are blessed to be their safe place. So take a breath and hug your children.