– Written by Elizabeth Scoville, Family Interventionist
A few weeks ago, a colleague of mine was putting her eight-year-old son to bed, and he was crying.
“What’s wrong?” she asked him.
“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my whole life.”
Raise your hand if you agree with him.
When COVID-19 pushed school districts to close, parents were at a loss with how to help their children cope because the adults felt scared and uncertain. How are we supposed to talk to our children about something we don’t understand? Wouldn’t it be better if we protect them from all the negativity, chaos, and uncertainty?
When we don’t talk to children about difficult things, we put them at a disadvantage and potentially harm their healing processes. Children have an idea of what is going on. They see their parents are more stressed out than usual; they see things are different. The children in our lives are going just as stir crazy as the rest of us. They miss their teachers, friends, and their sense of normalcy. If we pretend that everything is a-okay the children might think something is wrong with them for feeling scared.
Instead of pretending that nothing is wrong in front of our children, we can (and have a responsibility to) talk to them about these challenging things–COVID19, addiction, ACEs–in a way that doesn’t traumatize them. We don’t need to tell them every single detail. But we do need to tell what’s going on. Their schedules and routines have changed. We shouldn’t lie to them when they ask us questions. Don’t dumb it down, rather answer their questions in a way they can digest.
Developmentally, children feel the same emotions that adults feel, and they feel them at the same intensity. As adults, we can identify our feelings (even the uncomfortable ones) and manage them. Children don’t have that skill set yet. They are building it. That’s why children throw tantrums; they don’t know what to do with all of their emotions, so they may react and explode.
Talking about these difficult, hard things and how we feel about them helps children improve their ability to cope by expanding their emotional literacy and vocabulary. As adults we literally set the example and show them another way to cope with their emotions by giving them language to describe their emotions so they understand how to talk about their feelings. Children need to know that it’s okay to talk about this. It will prepare them for the hard things that they will experience in the future. And when they go through hard things, they’ll be able to talk about it and cope with it rather than push it down and ignore it.
Here are some ways you can help your child right now:
- You might be worried about paying bills and your job. Your children are worried about their friends and what school will look like next year. Both are important. Don’t forget to focus on your children, their emotions, and their experience through this, too.
- Increase mindfulness and honor the here and now, the present moment with your children. As much as possible, leave the future in the future.
- Normalize and validate their struggles. They need to know that how they feel (no matter what those feelings are) is normal and okay.
- Be authentic with your children. Show your children that YOU have emotions, too. It will allow them to increase their emotional awareness and talk about emotions.
- Create a place where it is safe for children to get it wrong. Parents set the example for how to cope, but children aren’t perfect mimics. Take advantage of the extra time with your children to teach them healthy coping skills.
Published on June 18, 2020