For all of us, these are unprecedented times. We have no prior experience exactly like this and as humans, our brains don’t cope well with sudden changes. Yet, we have this innate capacity to learn and adjust to new surroundings. We’ve survived as a species thanks to this mechanism of survival.
If you have kids, facing this crisis can make things more complicated. School closures, canceled plans like school events and trips are all examples of what we’ve lost. And at the same time, we have found new and creative ways to honor these significant rituals like online graduation ceremonies and birthday parties.
And now that the lockdown seems to have come to an end, our brains again need to adjust to another new normal.
So how do we keep our child’s or teen’s emotional wellbeing through these constant changes and uncertainty?
1) Keep routines consistent. Eating and sleeping schedules might have changed due to distance learning, and with the reopening of schools, there might need to be a readjustment of activities. Consider that your child will need time to adapt to new times and new social norms.
2) Keep your priorities and expectations attuned to what is most important to you and your child. In parenting terms, choose your battles. For some families, sitting all together for a nice dinner or having the kids finish their school assignments is an accomplishment that brings joy and peace. Trying to strive for a perfect day is a fast track to stress and ultimately can lead to burnout.
3) Keep an open channel of communication and information according to their age. Things haven’t ended yet, there is still a lot of uncertainty so staying informed is essential to building a sense of control. It might help to have a guide or some visual material to engage them in a conversation like comic strips, videos, and stories. We want to keep them informed on what the facts are and what is expected of them. Keep in mind your own feelings when talking with them.
4) Keep socially active. Parents and children alike have reported missing social interaction, for some more than others. Creating time to keep in touch with friends and family will help children to know that they are not alone and even learn to share their experiences in new and different ways. Organizing play dates online with specific topics or activities like ScavengerHunt, Bingo, Dress Up Play, Show and Tell, Comedy Show, Magic Tricks are just a few ways to connect with your kids. And with kids the ideas are endless!
5) Build their emotional awareness and practice emotional regulation through play, drawings, music, and games. This is a great opportunity to teach kids about different emotions, how they feel in the body, and how to manage them. Comfortable and uncomfortable emotions all have a purpose. And most importantly, validate whatever their emotional experience is. Time and time again, parents try to minimize or fix whatever the child is feeling. Just connecting and being with your child or teen will send them the message that you see and trust their strength to deal with whatever they are experiencing.
6) Model the behavior. How you deal with your own feelings is key. Children will learn from what they see and not only from what they are told. So if you find yourself overwhelmed or tired, remember to put on the oxygen mask on yourself first and then your child. Taking care of your own needs will make you a great role model.
7) Practice Self-Compassion and learn to be resilient
At the end of this, what do you want to have learned? I heard someone say, “No one is going to get an A+ in COVID–19”. If you are willing to accept yourself with your own mistakes, this will create space for your child to be loving and kind to themselves. When we teach what resiliency is all about through our actions and engagement with them, we give ourselves the opportunity to bounce back in such trying times.
Alejandra Reyes (MA, LCP)
Alejandra Reyes is a Clinical Psychologist with 15 years of clinical experience in the U.S., Mexico, Brazil and throughout Japan. Alejandra specializes in supporting families and children at TELL.