We are in unprecedented times- so they say. I agree with this…but there is very little direction on what steps we can take to get through this time of big and sudden change impacting people across the globe. We are in a time of the collective consciousness shifting. I love how Brene Brown describes this as we are moving from me to we; my to our; them to us. Fear and panic are seen everywhere and sometimes it’s vividly portrayed on TV as people are stockpiling toilet paper and hand sanitizer. We are bombarded by the images of people in hazmat suits. Frankly, it’s overwhelming…but then I try to look at it through the lens of my children and what they might be seeing.
Just recently our schools were closed until September. As a result, my kids are processing a lot of heavy stuff right now. To be honest, so am I. The implication of school closures goes beyond the last-minute scramble for child care. With the huge and sudden change of schools closing for the next 5 months, the implications this has for our communities and for my kids translates into significant loss and we need some time to adjust. Routines are so important for mental and emotional health and well being for adults and for kids. So, as we collectively scratch our heads wondering what will be lost next, we must take the only control we can in an otherwise uncontrollable situation; within ourselves and our immediate environment. Big changes take time to feel better about so be patient.
To help you get some perspective on what your kids or any other kids might be experiencing, dig into your childhood memory of a time when you were really scared or felt out of control. My own personal experience of fear is etched very clearly in my mind. I can recall the event in such detail that I can easily recreate the feelings of cold sweat running down my back and fear gripping me in the guts. With that memory carried forward, know that these feelings are very real for our kids and incomprehensible and confusing when you have no context for it. There is no context for this.
To help our kids the very first thing we must do is manage our anxiety and fear. We don’t have to hide what we are feeling but we need to cultivate our own calm. Simple, not easy. This means intentional self-care. For me: sleep or rest, hydration, affirmations, mediation, prayer, essential oil diffuser blends, taking the dog for a walk, eating the ice cream (and thankfully it’s Easter and the candy-coated mini eggs are out YAHHOOOOO!!!) Distraction never hurts, but don’t make the numbing out become a regular pattern that you sit in for too long. I am even talking out loud to my husband and kids saying I need to go calm myself and meditate or take a break. I am role-modeling what I need to take care of myself and my feelings. I DO talk about my fears and anxiety but in the same sentence talk about how I will manage that and why it is important.
Minimize the amount of media exposure to the crisis. Television, news reports on-line, and social media can create a frenzy. I need to limit this for myself. As a parent, you have to limit their exposure to sensationalized information or even the facts. Definitely make sure the exposure to death toll reports is limited. Adults have a hard enough time digesting this information, but for our kiddos trying to comprehend something this complicated and fast-moving without the context of lived experiences that we have, it is overwhelming at the very least
Name it to tame it. Give your kids the opportunity to talk about their fears, their anxieties, their feelings in general. Feelings of a loss of control are rampant for us adults. We try to control the uncontrollable in ways that keep is safe. Our kids do not have the tools or resources or thinking processes the way adults do. As child psychologist Dan Siegel says, you have to name it to tame it. Identifying fears and anger and other big feelings need to be supported by parents. Give them space and grace to learn how to understand these feelings. Sometimes fear can show up as anger for our kids and us adults.
Reassure them. We don’t have the answers right now and we are seeking expert advice in a rapidly changing environment. Think about our kids who look to us for guidance. While it is not a good idea to lie and tell them everything will be ok or that lots of people are going to die, age-appropriate conversations are critical. Let them ask questions. Be factual. Share the stuff on good hand hygiene and sanitation. You can research valid resources on things like symptoms and remind them that healthy bodies will be able to fight off the virus. Make sure they know although we are talking about social distancing, it is not social disconnecting. Try the phone or skype to keep connected with friends.
Ask them what would be helpful for them. If your kids’ school has closed down, ask your kids to help you come up with a plan on what they want to do for reading, on-line learning, or fun projects to keep kids busy and engaged. They might need some space for thinking and feeling and support to ask for what they need or want. It’s ok to let them eat ice cream every night for a few nights. It makes me feel better to treat myself, so why would that be different for our kids? While you’re at it, what would be helpful for you?
PLAY for you and for them. It is the quickest, easiest, and most fun way to get rid of those stress hormones flooding our bodies. Laughter truly presses our reset button and is healing emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. In fact, laughter and humor are used as part of the therapeutic healing process in many hospitals and medical settings.
Here is a link that might be helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocddWZuLYbw&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR3cq6zPkvCs4KGfyJEjHk46l_UlSuRfkdn-10STrfvPVEnSKntSQiz9ADA
Stay safe, stay healthy and be a helper.
Ali Wilks has a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies. She is also a certified stepfamily coach, the owner and founder of Step by Step Mom – a stepfamily/stepmom coaching business and Wellness Editor at Stepparent Magazine. Her other job is with Children’s Services, since 1998, in Edmonton, Alberta. She is currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit teaching classes on building skills, providing advocacy and support for foster, kinship and adoptive parents. These classes include building the essential skills in raising nonbiological children from the foster care system who present with special needs. Ali is a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too) and the birth mother of 2 beautiful girls.