Frustrated. Bored. Sad. Anxious. Stressed. Angry. Scared.
“My parent(s) lost their job.”
“Is this about to be the end of the world?”
“My best friend’s mom is being tested for coronavirus.”
“Is this online school from home really getting me everything I need?”
“My sister is getting on my everlasting nerve.”
“Is someone I love going to die of this?”
I’m not describing the questions, emotions, and thoughts of adults through COVID-19, though many share them. I’m talking about our children.
Many are hearing a new vocabulary that causes them to experience emotions during COVID-19 that are new to them.
Words like quarantine, shelter-in-place, unemployment, pandemic, stimulus, COVID-19 conspiracy, create questions and a need for understanding. It may signal that their world, their family’s world is changing or in their mind, moving away from something they’ve grown comfortable with and reliant on.
Our children are experiencing a moment in time that may well leave behind some defining changes in how they live their lives. My grandparents remembered the great depression like it was yesterday even though they were children when it took place. My parents remember the Civil Rights struggle vividly. They were teenagers. I remember 9/11. They will remember being quarantined, school shut down for months, sports and music seasons canceled, parents trying to homeschool, and being confined to the house.
They will remember it because of the emotions that they experienced.
Many will know someone that contracted COVID-19. Others may not. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t affected emotionally. As parents here’s what we can’t do. We can’t…
- Ignore the possibilities that COVID-19 is affecting our kids emotionally.
- Tell our kids that their feelings are right or wrong.
- Tell them how they should feel.
- Make them talk.
Here’s what we can do.
- Provide a safe space for them to share. Must be non-judgmental and listen with as few expectations as possible. The fact that they can share with you what they are feeling can rob the emotion of some of its debilitating effects.
- Help them name their emotions. Whatever they share is real to them. Take time to understand what they are thinking and feeling. (Check out the Feelings Wheel for a list of emotions. THIS is another good guide to emotions.) Encourage kids to write down the emotions they have felt or are feeling during COVID-19. Write them down as they talk about them if necessary.
- Simply be present with them to provide a sense of belonging. Whether they are talking or not, spend time with your kids doing things together. This often helps to set up organic conversation later.
- Acknowledge our own emotions and share how we are dealing with them. Be honest and open enough to acknowledge some of the effects the COVID-19 quarantine is having on you.
- Make sure physical needs are being met—full night’s sleep, healthy eating, exercise, getting outside. These all help our brain better process our emotions. We don’t process our emotions as well when we’re hungry, angry, tired or lonely.
- Encourage them to talk with other trusted adults (grandparent, aunt, uncle, youth pastor, coach). I have accepted that there are some things my 13-year-old daughter feels more comfortable talking to her grandmother about than me. This isn’t a time for me to be jealous or controlling. I should be thankful that I have support to help us all.
- Look for behavioral changes. Is your usually quiet child talking all the time now? Is your social kid spending a lot more time by themselves? Are there some behavior cues that let you know they may be dealing with some unresolved emotions during COVID-19?
- Develop rituals and routines. A routine can provide consistency and stability for our children. Within the routine, there are often spaces that lend themself to sharing and talking. Mealtimes, bedtime routines that include some time to reflect on the day, quiet time, family temperature checks, family meetings are just some of the environments where talking can take place.
- Be patient. As adults, we sometimes don’t share until we’re ready to share. Your child may be the same way. Simply letting them know that they can come to you at any time is reassuring.
- Seek out professional help. If your child is obviously being emotionally affected in a significant way and they are possibly a danger to themselves or others, counselors are accepting appointments via video.
Helping a child process their emotions means being prepared at any time for them to start talking.
You can’t plan or schedule emotional processing. I’ve had my daughter tack on a comment at the end of a trivial conversation that set off an alarm that something was bothering her. A little question like, “Will we have enough money to buy ice cream?” from my son signaled that he had been thinking a lot about how the current situation is affecting us financially.
Listening. Listening is the name of the game. We’ve all heard the old adage, “We have two ears and one mouth to listen twice as much as we talk.” As parents, we have to work to practice this principle. The more our kids talk, the better. The less we lecture at them, the better. This is a time where we as parents can be a tremendous aid to the emotional development of our children which will serve them greatly for years to come.