I will be reaching out more regularly to offer support and guidance as we are constantly adapting to changes due to COVID-19. Please email me if you have topics / questions you would like covered and I will create content to fit your needs.
For today, let's talk about how to best help our kids process emotions with all the changes that are going on...
It's tempting to try and distract and entertain to keep kids from feeling upset, but there is a danger in TOO MUCH distraction and deflecting. It's important to give our kids space to feel and process the myriad of emotions that they are feeling right now and as we progress through these days and weeks. This will help reduce some of the "surface" symptoms that otherwise are likely to pop up now... and later even as things start to return to normal. Surface symptoms are what we see behaviorally and emotionally as a result of internal distress, conflict and / or confusion. What can this look like by age?
Up to age 2/3: These little ones are more responsive to our emotional states and their immediate environment. If you are calm and doing well, they are likely to be to. They may be more clingy and seeking more cuddles and attention. This is their way of feeling comforted and reassured as they are picking up on the emotional energy of all of the rest of us, changes in routines and new norms.
Preschool kiddos: Hello meltdowns! This is the age of confusion. They get it but they don't. They know their birthday party is cancelled, they are not in school, they can't play with friends, etc... but they don't REALLY get why. They feel misled (but you said I was having my friends over for my birthday!), they feel confused (but don't I go to school tomorrow?, why the heck did mommy / daddy just flip out because I touched my face?, why am I having to wash my hands ALL the time?). This confusion leads to deeper feelings of mistrust (they can't count on things that were a given) and a feeling of being unsettled and confused (which translates to feeling unsafe emotionally). This all looks on the surface like a short fuse, melt downs and acting out.
School age kids: You might see more sadness, disrespect and anger in this age group. They get it, but they don't like it. They miss their friends and things may feel unfair as every household is developing it's own norms as best as they can. They don't have their normal peer interactions to play out being in charge and to try out different roles (the games kids make up usually have this element of taking turns leading and following) so they feel constantly led and not at all in control. This can also look like increased sibling conflict as they may try and fulfill their need for control with siblings!
How can we help kids with these feelings?
Here are some ideas - offer options and let your kid(s) choose what feels best for them:
- Draw your feelings! Do this WITH them - it's good for you too and models emotional expression. You likely have feelings all over the map just like they do - seeing this on paper is powerful!
- Nurture! Set them up with a bath with candles, maybe a good head massage as you wash their hair :)
- PLAY - let them teach you their common playground games and let them lead you. Any kind of child led play is gold!
- Model your own feelings - the good and the tough...
- Reflect theirs - "It's really sad that___________ got cancelled, you were really excited about that", or "you are mad you can't do the things you normally do". Reflect - don't try to fix. There is no fixing this! We have to be in it. Feel it. Allow and accept. THEN move through and on.