“Why don’t I feel that overwhelming loving feeling toward her? Is there something wrong with me?”
These are the thoughts that raced through my mind as I was sobbing at 2 a.m., trying to rock my 4-week-old baby girl back to sleep.
I’ve always wanted to be a mom. As a kid, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered, “a mom.” In friend groups, I’ve always been the “mom” to everyone. When I thought about motherhood, I felt totally confident and prepared to become a mother.
But the day she was born, all those things I thought would come naturally never came. And even now, 3 months into it, I’m still struggling with those late-night thoughts.
Let me clarify something before you get any further — I’m not here to give you any advice. I can’t share a list of steps to help you out of these feelings because I’m still in it myself. And I don’t have it figured out (not even close), but I can offer you this: You’re not alone. I see you.
And I see you questioning yourself and your baby, wondering if you’ll make it through this in one piece, struggling to understand how different motherhood is than how you thought it would be. And I’ve realized, for me at least, that these feelings aren’t just rooted in sadness or sleep deprivation, but grief.
Grieving What Used to Be and Accepting the New
After my husband, my daughter, and I survived those first 3 weeks of postpartum and the fog *somewhat* lifted, I had this unshakeable feeling that the Caroline I had known 3 weeks earlier was gone. The super type-A, confident, reliable person I had been was just upheaved, and a new life — a new person — had just begun. And while I was told to enjoy it, to celebrate having “mother” as my number one descriptor, and to lean into this person I was becoming, I couldn’t do it. I liked the person I used to be and the life I had before motherhood. I didn’t want anything to change. But it had to.
I’ve grieved things as they used to be. I can no longer be on-call for everyone’s every need. I can’t go out with friends at the drop of a hat. No more snuggling on the couch every night with my husband and our dog. Heck, even the clothes I wore no longer fit, and they probably never will. Now, everything revolves around a feeding and sleeping schedule. I have to look for childcare, turn down calls and visits, and set firm boundaries with friends and family.
Maybe you’ve changed careers, or maybe you’ve given up your job to stay home with your baby. And maybe you’ve felt ostracized by family and friends because of this transition into motherhood. Regardless of what your life as a mom looks like, we all have to mourn the life we had before our little ones came into our lives. For good and not so good, things will never be the same.
Grieving Who I Thought I Would Be
There is this second aspect of grief that has taken me nearly 3 months to understand. It’s this feeling that I’m not the kind of mom I always thought I would be. My whole life, I envisioned this fun, adventurous mom dancing in the kitchen with her kids. But when my daughter was born and struggled to eat and refused to sleep, I thought I would lose my mind. That vision of the energetic mom quickly disappeared, and what felt like a shell of a person took her place.
For over two months, there was rarely a day without a breakdown from me, my husband, and our baby. It has been hard to bond with and love on my daughter and nearly impossible to feel close to my husband. At times I’ve felt like I just can’t do it anymore.
*I want to take a second here to say something that needs to be said. Since the very beginning, I’ve been in conversations with my doctor to monitor Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety symptoms. Since 1 in 7 women experience PPD, I was very aware that this was a possibility for me. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms or have any concerns. For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español).*
I’ve felt stuck in a never-ending cycle of trying to force myself into who I am “supposed to be,” then breaking down when that pressure is too much for me to handle. After the first 10 weeks of this, I gave up. I stopped trying to force that image on myself and started trying to accept the mother I am right now. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn and grow as my baby girl learns and grows — that will always be my goal.
But I want you to hear this: It’s ok to rest in who you are right now. Take the pressure off yourself to be the mom you feel like you’re supposed to be. Ignore the people who tell you to enjoy every moment, because not every moment is enjoyable. If no one else has, I want to tell you that it’s ok to need a break, to ask for help before you get desperate, and to be honest when people ask, “Don’t you just love being a mom??”
I know it gets better. But until it does, I don’t want to pretend that I’m loving this stage. People give new moms an unrealistic expectation to immediately bond with their baby, to be joyful about the many challenges of motherhood, and to appreciate all the fleeting stages their child will go through.
But what happens when none of that feels possible? Most new moms are left to wonder if there’s something wrong with them. But I firmly believe that these feelings of grief are ok to process through. I’m content with where I am right now. But I’m also looking forward to growing into the mother I know I can be. And I’m ready to take this journey one baby step at a time.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Untitled-4-01.png5001200Caroline Henryhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngCaroline Henry2021-07-28 15:22:242021-07-29 09:36:08When Motherhood Isn’t What You Thought It Would Be
These 5 things can help her protect, assert, and defend herself.
I’m a dad of daughters. And like other parents, I would do anything to protect my girls. Anything. From harm and from bullies. From being taken advantage of. And from pubescent boys with only one thing on their mind (and I’m not talking about video games…).
But I also know I can give my girls greater gifts: the skills and confidence to protect themselves. A big part of this is teaching them the importance of consent. I call it having consent conversations.
Now, I know the term consent is often a buzzword, especially when sexual harassment, date rape, molestation, and other horrible abuses are in the news. And, good heavens, we need to teach our daughters to guard themselves.
I’d like to suggest that consent conversations are more than protection from these sorts of sexual abuses, although they certainly include them.
At its core, talking to your daughter about consent is helping her identify, establish, verbalize, and guard her boundaries. What will she allow to go on around her in a given situation? At what point does she take a stand? And how does she go about taking that stand?
Even further, consent conversations help your daughter recognize and respect others’ boundaries. As a friend’s son said very well, “Consent isn’t just about dating; it’s about respecting people.”
Consent conversations help your daughter develop self-respect and assertiveness as well as respect for others. It keeps her safe emotionally, physically, and sexually. It gives her a vocabulary to use for upholding boundaries. And it lays the groundwork for having healthier relationships in the future.
So, consent conversations are kind of a big deal.
How do you teach your daughter the importance of consent? Here are five questions you can use to engage your daughter in consent conversations.
1. In a given situation with another person, what are you OK with?
And what are you not OK with? Help your daughter think through different scenarios — with friends at school, around other adults, at a friend’s house, with someone they are dating. Ask, what could happen that would be OK or not OK with you?
2. When someone wants to do something with or around you that’s not OK, how will you respond?
Talk about when to be polite, when to be firm, and when to be forceful with her no. What are situations she needs to walk away from? And if someone keeps doing or saying something despite her objection, let her know she needs to separate herself, go somewhere safe, and call a trusted adult.
3. How do you read the situation for danger signs?
Teaching your daughter how to be aware of what’s going on around is a critical skill. How are people acting around you? Can you trust those you’re with to have your back? Be sure to discuss the role alcohol and drugs play in certain situations and how they can break down awareness and inhibitions.
4. If there’s a situation you feel you can’t escape, what’s the plan?
You don’t want to frighten your daughter, but you do want to prepare her. Teach your daughter to always have the means to get out of a situation. Know where the door and a phone are. Where’s the nearest place with other people? What’s the quickest way to get in touch with someone you trust? It might also be worth enrolling her in a self-defense course or a martial arts class (or better yet, do that together). It can boost her confidence and give her some good skills.
5. How can you tell if someone is OK or not OK with your actions? What do you do if they are not?
So here’s the flip side of consent. How can you be aware of your own words and actions and have a general respect for those around you? When should you ask someone if they are OK with something? And when should you back off?
Consent conversations are important. We as parents are responsible for teaching our children how to protect, assert, and stand up for themselves (and others) when someone pushes the boundaries. I encourage you to start age-appropriate consent conversations this week!
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Untitled-9-01.png8542048Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2021-06-17 12:59:112021-06-18 15:59:19How to Teach Your Daughters The Importance of Consent
When it comes to parenting and feeling like stress is taking over their lives right now, most parents (especially those with school-age children) would probably say their stress level is at a 12 on a scale of 1-10.
In fact, many completely identify with and find themselves crying right along with Blake McLennan from Arizona. Her parents filmed her crying and lamenting how it’s not okay that everything is closed and that she can’t have play dates with her friends, that school is not taking place and most importantly, McDonald’s has closed their playground.
It’s true. Stress is at an all-time high and many parents are feeling its sting.
What should I do about childcare?
What’s the best decision about school?
How am I going to work and have the kids at home trying to do online classes?
Is my job on the chopping block?
What if one of us gets COVID-19?
Will my college student go back to school or are we stuck together for the semester?
So many questions and so few answers. It’s enough to make any parent ask, “Where do I go to resign because I feel like I just can’t do it anymore?” Not that you would ever do that, but this is intense. Parenting is stressful during “normal” times, but throw in a pandemic and many parents are wondering how they can continue at this level of intensity and stress.
Here’s a word of comfort for you. Parents and children have gone through pandemics and other incredibly hard things before and came out on the other side of it. You will, too!
These things may help decrease some of your stress as you trek through this and get to the other side healthy and whole.
This seems like a no-brainer, but acknowledge that you are stressed out. Talk with your spouse or a good friend about all that is stressing you. Most everybody can identify with these feelings. Even though they can’t do anything to change the situation, they can listen and that is a huge help.
Chances are pretty great that you are a good parent, so stop telling yourself you aren’t. It just creates more stress and it probably isn’t true. Keep in mind that you are having to make hard decisions based on your own unique circumstances.
Stop comparing yourself and your situation with others and the choices they are making. The only person who knows what’s right for your family is you.
Breathe! Seriously, to decrease your stress, make time to breathe. Incorporate these times into your day, especially when it feels like your stress is taking over. Just 60 seconds of deep breathing with your eyes closed can help reduce stress and make you less irritable with your children.
Decide on a routine. Not only will this reduce your tension levels, it will reduce the stress your children feel and act out on. Morning, noon and evening routines and rituals can drastically reduce stress overload for everyone. This doesn’t have to be complex. Just little things can make a huge difference.
Avoid saying, “I didn’t sign up for the parenting pandemic plan. This is just too hard.” Your brain believes what you tell it. Actually thinking this thought all the time creates more stress. It is hard, but you can do it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and give yourself and those around you some grace.
Be really intentional about getting enough rest, eat as healthy as possible (binge-eating actually makes you feel worse), and exercise. You may not feel like exercising, but physical activity that makes you sweat gets rid of toxins in your body and helps you think more clearly. You hear this all the time, because it’s important and it’s true, especially in times of extreme stress. Plus, you can’t be the parent you want to be if you are running on empty all the time. Believe it or not, not doing these things increases your own stress levels and the stress levels of those around you so you kinda can’t afford not to take good care of yourself. This is probably one of the most powerful tools you have to keep stress from taking over your life.
Journal. Putting your feelings and all the things that are troubling you down on paper can help you process what you are experiencing. It also provides another way for you to figure out exactly where your stress is coming from in order to better manage it.
Manage your intake of news and social media. You really might be shocked at how your anxiety levels decrease when you remove these two things from your day. Try it and see what happens.
When you feel yourself getting ready to lose it with your kids, consider putting everybody in quiet time (including yourself) for a few minutes so you can get your bearings. Phone a friend, put in a good movie, have a dance party or do anything that will break the cycle you are currently in and redirect everybody so you can continue moving everybody in a constructive direction.
Schedule time to do fun things. This is vital, especially during high-stress times. Make your own Slip ‘N Slide, play in the sprinkler with your kids, play a game of Horse, go on a hike and find a creek to play in, go blueberry picking or plant a garden. Think of play as a necessary escape from reality.
The next time you feel the stress monster creeping up your back, through your shoulders and into your head, take the reins and tame it by using these strategies. The stress will be with us for a while, but we don’t have to let it get the best of us!
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/tired-mother-kidding-while-sitting-with-children-4017413-scaled-e1596205080719.jpg202400Julie Baumgardnerhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngJulie Baumgardner2020-07-24 14:45:412020-07-31 11:49:48How Not to Let Parenting Stress Take Over Your Life
The last couple of weeks have found us having more conversations with our 7-year-old about what being diversity aware means. We have discussed what has happened in our nation over the last few months as well as what is currently happening in our city and state. This was not our first conversation about diversity. It has been an ongoing theme in our household since he was born. We have the same conversations with our 4-year-old daughter as well.
Diversity is important to us as we are a multicultural family. But the conversations over the last couple of weeks have taken a different tone, a more urgent tone. We have had some deeper conversations about recognizing and appreciating diversity. Our language has changed, too. More clarity has entered the conversation to ensure that our son understands what words like racism, diversity, and prejudice mean.
So how can we help our children become more aware of the diversity around them? We, as parents, play an invaluable role in teaching our children how to respect and appreciate differences. Here are some of the ways we have taught diversity to our kids.
1. Acknowledge Differences
We are all unique. We represent different cultures and ethnicities. There is beauty in our differences and we should celebrate them. This makes the world a more interesting place, it would be kind of boring if we all were just alike. One thing you can always count on with kids is that they will ask questions. Sometimes they ask the hard questions. When our children ask why someone has a different color skin, different hair, or speaks a different language, we need to take the opportunity to discuss the visible differences that we have. Reinforce that regardless of the color of one’s skin or the language they speak, every person has equal value.
2. Model Diversity
If we want to teach our kids about diversity, we need to make sure our circle of friends is diverse. Diversity comes in many forms—ethnicity, culture, and socioeconomic are just a few examples. I’ll never forget the last Christmas we lived in South Florida. My son was two and we had a group of friends over to celebrate. These were people we worked with and did life with. The group makeup was myself, my Latin wife, a Jamaican, a Haitian, a black friend from Florida, and our friends who are white. This was a unique blend of cultures and these were all people that our son had the opportunity to spend time with during his first two years of life. I share this to say that we need to surround ourselves with diversity so our kids see how important it really is.
3. Introduce Diversity
One of my favorite books to read to my daughter is Where Are You From? by Yamile Saied Mendez. Why? Because this book is a conversation between a young girl and her grandpa about why she looks different than her friends. Children’s books offer a vast array of diversity. Take a look at what you have in your child’s library and see if there are books that represent people of different races and cultures. You can find some ideas by clicking here. Another fun way to learn more about diversity is to attend culture festivals in your area. These are fun, interactive events that introduce a variety of cultures… and great food is a bonus. Also, look at the children’s movies that you watch with your kids. Point out the differences in the ethnicities of the characters and have a conversation about who those characters represent.
4. Teach Empathy
What does it mean to have empathy? It means that we can sense and understand the feelings of others and share in those feelings. Many of us have heard the saying “Don’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.” We may not be able to fully identify with someone else’s reality, but we can choose to share their feelings. Jimmy Rollins explains it this way: “Do we have the capacity to love someone else’s reality that is not our own?” As parents, we can have conversations with our children to help them understand what it means to identify with the feelings of another and walk alongside them. We can help our children identify their own feelings and label those emotions. This will give them the tools to have a conversation about the emotions of others and how we can walk alongside someone who is different than us.
5. Encourage Conversation
Helping your child become diversity aware is not a one-time discussion. This is an ongoing conversation that will last for years. Take every opportunity to help your child continually learn about diversity. Encourage them to ask questions as well. Kids are curious—they want to constantly know more. I can attest that my kids never stop asking questions. We can be intentional about creating an environment that promotes curiosity and learning.
6. Take A Stand
If we have done all these things, then we need to help our kids understand when and how to take a stand. If my son has a schoolmate who is bullied because of their race or culture, we have taught him to take a stand for them. Sometimes taking a stand is as simple as including people of different ethnicities. Ask your child what their friend group looks like. Look for ways that they can include people who look different than them into their group. Taking a stand can be as simple as showing kindness, compassion, and love. And when your child does take a stand, affirm and celebrate them. This will encourage them to continue.
Helping your child become diversity aware is a marathon, not a sprint. Stay in the race and help our kids continue to change the world.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/photo-of-two-girls-playing-with-stuffed-animals-3662839-scaled-e1596224741540.jpg274499Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2020-06-11 10:40:182020-07-31 15:46:196 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child Be Diversity Aware
“Of course my child knows I love them!” But do they? Really? To be clear, I’m not questioning whether you love your child; I’m questioning whether your child knows that you love them. Do they know how broad, wide, and deep your love is for them? There’s more to your child feeling loved than saying, “I love you! Goodnight!” every night.
Google Autocomplete can be illuminating. For those unfamiliar with it, as you begin typing a search into Google, Google begins to finish it for you with the most popular searches put into its search engine. So, typing, “How do I get my parents to” will autocomplete with the most popular searches that begin with the same phrase. This particular example is as heartbreaking as it is illuminating.
The number one autocomplete is: How do I get my parents to love me?
★ What would lead kids, tweens, and teens to google ways to get their parents to love them? Is there a disconnect somewhere? Are we overestimating how much affection our kids feel? Are we not communicating love in ways that resonate with our kids? Some kids don’t even think their parents like them, let alone love them. Even if you feel confident that your child knows they are loved, there’s always room to learn more ways to deepen it.
Here’s How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them
1. Understand Your Child’s Heart.
Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a great book, The Five Love Languages of Children, that suggests we all communicate and receive love uniquely. Sometimes the way we communicate love doesn’t match up with how our kids “hear” love and we love right past them. We might be providing tons of loving, affirming words, but our child might really feel loved the most when we spend quality time with them. His website is really helpful and has great resources!
What do they ask of you? This can provide insights into how they receive affection.
Do they ask you to come and play with them? (Love = Quality Time.)
Do they ask if you think the picture they drew is pretty or if you are proud of their report card? (Love = Affirming Words.)
Do they ask for help with homework or their hair? (Love = Helping Them.)
How do they express love and affection to you? This also provides insight into their heart and what says, “I love you” to them.
Do they want to sit in your lap and give you hugs? (Love = Physical Connection.)
Do they like to make things for you like drawing you a picture or bring you things like a dandelion? (Love = Gifts, Tokens of Affection.)
2.Spend Time With Them.
We can kid ourselves by saying things like, “I don’t spend a lot of time with my kids, but when I do, I make it count.” It’s great to “make it count” (quality time) but our kids need “a lot” of time, too (quantity time). There really is no substitute. Kids spell “love,” T – I – M – E.
Be intentional. Routines, rituals, and structure provide predictability and ultimately help kids feel safe. When children feel safe, they feel loved and can thrive. Regular parent/child dates. Dinner together as a family. Friday Night Game Nights. Appropriate and consistent expectations communicate, “I love you and care about your wellbeing.”
Look for and even plan for informal time together. Get on the floor and play with their toys with them. Watch them play video games. Take them with you to run errands or hang out with you while you’re working on the car. Lots of bonding happens organically just being together.
3.Expand The Bandwidth Of Your Communication.
Your words are powerful. Not just what you say but how you say it. Remember, your body isn’t on mute. An angry “Because I said so!” could be a calm “Here’s why this is important…” Don’t underestimate the power of your words in forming your child’s perception of how you feel about them.
Listen. Really listen. So many kids say their parents talk at them, not with them. You can’t make your child talk to you, but you can be present and create an atmosphere and relational environment where talking is much more likely to take place. Don’t be quick to jump in with a judgment or lecture.
Say, “I love you.” Not just at bedtime, but say it at times when they don’t expect to hear it—when they’ve done something wrong and have to be corrected, when they are down on themselves and don’t feel lovable, random times like car rides or when they are just walking across the room. It is important that children understand that there is nothing that they can do to make you love them more or love them less.
Other phrases that say “I love you” without saying “I love you.”
I believe in you.
I’m proud of you.
I’m always here for you.
I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
Whether you know it or not, you are always sending messages revealing how you feel about your kids—and they are paying attention. Think about that for a second. If you think it’s possible that your children might wonder how much you love them, you don’t have to let them wonder. Be intentional and talk with them about it. With loving your kids, make sure it’s a show AND tell.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/kelly-sikkema-FqqaJI9OxMI-unsplash-4-scaled-e1596467267607.jpg276450John Daumhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngJohn Daum2020-05-27 08:29:022021-03-16 13:15:25How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them
Routines and consistency are vital to the growth of our children. Research tells us this and experience confirms it. But you know what? A global pandemic tends to be a routine-buster! Nothing rocks our daily flow more than the sudden closing of schools and businesses. So what did we do? Families had to make adjustments to meet a new temporary normal. Bedtimes shifted. Morning routines looked radically different. Navigating a “normal” day became a balance of school, work, video conferencing, and the ever-continuing struggle of screen time. But how can we get back on track after quarantine?
For us, our kids’ bedtime shifted later in hopes that they might sleep a little later in the morning (that was a fail). The morning rush and commute was gone. Screen times increased for our kids, partially due to school, but mostly to help us get work done. Spring baseball was just a memory. Our biggest adjustments really were figuring out how to both work remotely and help our second grader with school.
But here we are, eight weeks in and businesses and restaurants are reopening, childcare centers that may have been closed or limited to essential personnel are taking steps to welcome all of their kids back. Not only that, but the school year has ended, and for many of us, summer camps are now nonexistent. Virtual learning at least provided some sort of structure for our kids. My son knew he had assignments to do daily and when his video calls were… and he reminded us often.
Now it’s time to shift routines again and get back on track. In just a few short weeks, my wife returns to work at a childcare center. My 4-year-old will also return to her childcare center sometime in the month of June. My son needs some structure for the summer as I still work remotely. So, what do we change? How do we return to some sense of the routines that we had before?
Questions to Ask to Help You Get Back on Track After Quarantine
As we discussed this as a family, we asked ourselves some questions.
What do we begin to shift now to prepare our kids to return to a new schedule? Bedtimes, for instance, need to adjust. Take gradual steps to resume a pre-quarantine bedtime. The same could be said for morning routines. We can make small steps to reclaim some of our routines in this area starting with what time we all get up. Abrupt changes are difficult for everyone—but especially for kids.
What have we started doing during this quarantine that we want to keep? Our kids have had tremendously more free, creative play. We have spent more evenings around the fire pit. More time has been spent in the hammock. How do we protect these things that have brought so much joy?
What do we want to learn over the summer? As I look for ways to fill my son’s days, I’ll start by asking him what he wants to learn more about. What can we explore as a family that will continue their learning? Just because summer is over doesn’t mean learning has to end, but it can be fun learning experiences.
Prepare for Transition to Get Back on Track
As your family begins to discuss this next transition, here are 3 recommendations I have:
Get your mindset right. Mentally prepare for transitions in your routines. Get ready for the battles that you may have to fight.
Get your plan together. Have a family meeting to discuss this time of transition. (Check out this blog for some great ideas.) What does your specific situation require? This is a great opportunity to reinforce with kids why routines are important and why we have to also be flexible and make changes sometimes.
Get tough skin. (If you don’t already have it.) Let’s face it—kids don’t like change. Many of us adults don’t either. You may have had weeks with much less structure, but now we have to make more changes. Not everyone will be happy, but that’s okay.
★ Nothing says that we have to return to the same routine as we had before the quarantine. Take this opportunity to evaluate what you as a family really want to do and what you value. You don’t have to make life as busy as it was before. ★
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/happy-family-sitting-on-a-couch-and-watching-tv-4260639-scaled-e1596467708140.jpg263450Mitchell Quallshttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngMitchell Qualls2020-05-18 08:46:132020-09-02 11:50:073 Ways to Get Your Kids Back on Track After Quarantine Life
I was in my home office when I heard gut-wrenching screams and wild barking. The dad-adrenaline shot straight to my brain, and I was out the front door quicker than you can say “ankle-biting poodle.”
Teaching your child what to do when confronted with a strange dog is one thing. Teaching her what to do when confronted with a charging dog while overcome with terror is quite another.
As my feet left the top porch step and hit the grass of the front yard, my eyes perceived in slow-motion a medium-sized canine barreling across the lawn toward the heels of my sprinting, wailing 8-year-old daughter. In a matter of near-perfect timing and full stride, I jumped in between them, gave the beast my best WWE professional-wrestler-stare, and (quite literally) ROARED at the animal (think Mufasa confronting the hyenas).
The pursuing mutt immediately wielded a sharp U-turn and trotted in the opposite direction, head hung low and tail between legs. (It was hard to tell through all the adrenaline, but I’m pretty sure he whined out an apology from a safe distance).
I admit—I felt pretty darn cool. It’s just a shame the rest of the neighborhood wasn’t outside to see it.
But the most important part of this story is what followed. Once the adrenaline drained from both of us, my daughter and I sat down to talk about what happened and for me to bestow my invaluable fatherly wisdom.
You see, I was taught growing up that if a dog comes at you, don’t run; if you do, you’re acting like prey, and its wild wolf-like instincts are going to kick in (even with the little ankle-biting poodles), and it’s gonna chase you. Stand your ground, look it in the eye, and establish your dominance.
Yeah, try explaining all this to an 8-year-old shaking in her sneakers. And consequently, through our conversation I learned some dad lessons on talking to your child about fear. But now we have something else nipping at the heels of our kids: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Virus?
COVID-19 has our world in a fearful, anxious tizzy. And children are not the least of who are impacted. Kids may not fully understand the situation (Heck, most adults don’t fully understand…), but they sense enough to know that things are amiss—so much so that it feels like this virus is right behind them, ready to pounce.
And, as much as we want to, it’s not like we as parents can step in between with a wrestler stare and roar the virus into a U-turn. Things are just more… complicated than that.
So how do we help our kids through the fear of COVID-19? I’d like to offer some steps you can take:
Help your child understand good fear and bad fear.
Fear does serve a good purpose. It protects us, keeps us from harm, helps us survive. But good fear happens in the context of short-term, isolated threats. It gives us the ability to run away from ankle-biting poodles.
But fear isn’t helpful to us when it’s long-lasting. This is good-fear-turned-bad and can be detrimental to the emotional and physical health and development of children.
Help your child to understand good fear and bad fear by using words like these: You know, some things scare us because we know there is danger, like unfamiliar dogs or snakes or electrical sockets. And this fear is good—it helps keep us safe.
But sometimes we have fear about something and we don’t know why. We think it might be dangerous, but we don’t know for sure. And so it makes us worry for a very long time. For example, sometimes people are afraid of the dark; it’s not because they know what’s in the dark, but because they don’t know what’s there. And what’s happening with the virus might be scaring you, not because you know what’s going to happen, but because you don’t know.
Normalize fear for your child—even if it’s irrational.
Let your child know it’s okay to be afraid. Say things like, Everyone is afraid of something. And there are a lot of people—even adults—who are scared of what’s going on with the virus. It’s okay to be scared. What we want to do is learn more about it and what we need to do to be safe.That way, we don’t have to worry so much. We’re going to work through this together.
Keep in mind that normalizing fear for your child means validating their fear as areal thing, no matter how irrational it is. Yes, you as an adult know that chances are extremely low that your child could catch the virus simply by walking outside. However, if this is the fear your child has, it’s their fear. This means it’s very real to them no matter how unreasonable it might seem.
Understand as a parent that fear isn’t something to “get over” but to work through.
It’s a process. Fear is an emotional reaction, and you can’t just fix emotions—especially in kids! So you have to have patience, and encourage your child to be patient with themselves.
And keep in mind that there’s a bigger picture with helping our kid work through the process of fear. Yes, we are helping them to work through the situation at hand. But perhaps more importantly, we are helping them to build RESILIENCE and PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS that will go with them into their teen and adult years.
Teach emotional self-regulation.
Encourage them to verbalize how they feel. If it helps, have them write down a few sentences that describe more specifically what they are afraid of.
Use a tool like the Wheel of Emotion (below) to give your child the language about how they feel about COVID-19. Sure, they may be “fearful” or “scared,” but this helps kids pinpoint some feelings like “helpless,” “nervous,” or “worried” which helps them process what they’re feeling inside. This opens up great conversation with your child, which is essential for processing fear.
Finally, encourage your child to engage in healthy behaviors regularly such as active play, engaging with their friends and family online, and plenty of rest.
I’ve found it helpful to teach my youngest deep–breathing techniques to use when she feels stressed, which can be found on various mindfulness websites and apps. These are all skills which will help your child regulate their fear and gain a sense of calm.
Coach your child to give their fear a name.
I heard of one family whose child was afraid of the dark, so they directed her to give her fear a name, much like you’d name a pet. The moniker she chose for her fear was “Bob.” Whenever she felt that fear creep into her head at night, the little girl would call it out verbally, and say something like, “Not tonight, Bob—I don’t have time to deal with you because I really want to get some sleep.So, Bob, you need you to scram!”
This might seem sort of trite, but in reality this helps children (especially the younger ones) realize the control they have over their emotions. Giving it a name takes the edge off of fear. It also empowers the child to boss it around rather than allowing it to boss her around.
Regulate your own fears.
Your kids follow your lead. They look to you as an example of healthy emotional regulation and fear management. How well are you taking care of yourself in the midst of the pandemic? If you’re freaking out and not practicing self-care, your kids will play Monkey-See-Monkey-Do. So be sure you are taking care of yourself and regulating your own emotions well. For good resources, read I’m Too Afraid To Leave the House Because of COVID-19 and watch this video on self-care during COVID-19.
Let’s be real: Ankle-nipping dogs have nothing on the COVID-19 pandemic. But as parents we can teach them either to run away and wail, or to process through it and face down the fear with a ROAR. And they’ll take that ROAR with them the rest of their life.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/caleb-woods-VZILDYoqn_U-unsplash-scaled-e1596469177962.jpg261450Chris Ownbyhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngChris Ownby2020-05-08 09:55:342020-08-03 11:40:09When My Child Is Afraid of COVID-19
A crisis can teach us a lot about ourselves. It can magnify our shortcomings and challenge our beliefs. It can shine a light onto our priorities—from how we spend our time, to what we spend our energy talking about, to where we spend our money. This is as good a time as any to reset and be intentional about how we, as a family, open back up for business.
Let’s not leave anything to chance. You must be intentional. Intentional about time together, building relationships within the home, connecting with those you care about, not over-scheduling and self-care. Make a family plan to live on purpose post-COVID-19.
Step 1: Gather with your spouse and/or children.
Call together a family meeting. A family meeting shows that this is important. It also shows that you want everyone’s input.
Step 2: Play a game, have a dance-off, start a pillow fight! Get the blood flowing!
Doing something fun first helps create a positive atmosphere where ideas can flow. It can set the stage for amazing creativity.
Step 3: Things to discuss that can help you develop your family plan.
Pick the questions that are most appropriate for your family. Older children might like to write answers to some of these ahead of time.What did you like most about being quarantined?
What was the toughest part about being quarantined?
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what?
How do you think the quarantine affected our family in a positive way?
Did we do anything during quarantine that we want to keep doing?
What parts of pre-quarantine family life do you not want to go back to?
What are our family’s biggest strengths? Biggest weaknesses?
What does success as a family look like? How can we work together as a family to achieve that success?
Who are the people outside of this family (extended family, friends, neighbors) that we care about?
How could we be intentional to care for them and stay connected?
Step 4: PLAN
Work together to develop a family plan that reflects the thoughts and conclusions from your discussion in Step 3. Be sure that your plan includes how you will:
Spend time together as a family.(Number of meals you’ll eat together each week. How often you’ll do a family activity. Schedule one-on-one time.)
Choose a family-friendly number of extracurricular activities to participate in.(Consider how much time it will take. Pros and cons. Is this just a good thing or is it the best thing for me and our family? Are we over-scheduling? The cost to the entire family.)
Regulate screen time.(Check out our technology in the home resources.)
Connect with those outside of your family that you care about. (Visits, phone calls, video-chats, gifts, etc.)
When crafting your plan, aim to be realistic.
Be willing to adjust your plan if you overshoot your expectations. The goal isn’t to be perfect, it’s to have stronger relationships. Your plan may start with 5 meals per week. After a few weeks, you may realize that 5 meals per week are not realistic for your family. You may end up adjusting your plan to 1 or 2 meals per week.
What’s important is that you prioritize your time as a family. Hard decisions may have to be made by everyone– often, starting with the parents’ choice of activities that they are involved in. This must be done if you’re going to purposefully bring the lessons your family has learned during the quarantine into your post-quarantine life.
Dr. Gary Oliver, Executive Director of the Center for Healthy Relationships, wrote: “When 1,500 school children were asked the question, ‘What do you think makes a happy family?’ the most frequent answer was ‘doing things together.’”
The happiness and the belonging that comes with doing things together helps children have the confidence, security, and identity they need to leave their home and face the world.
https://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/jeniffer-araujo-6cBKMxTYmWw-unsplash-2-scaled-e1596469332369.jpg300450Reggie Madisonhttps://firstthings.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/ftf-logo-300x186.pngReggie Madison2020-05-08 09:20:302020-09-02 12:08:43How To Make A Family Plan for Post COVID-19