Here we are at six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and we’re still trying to manage so much uncertainty. Parents, whether your child has started school in-person, online or the hybrid model, just remember that nothing is easy for anyone right now. It can be especially difficult if you’re a parent struggling with anxiety, depression or other conditions that require medical intervention. If you are having difficulty, then your child might be exhibiting social, emotional and behavioral problems, too. When we are experiencing difficult emotional states, we may go into fight, flight or freeze mode. It’s our brain’s survival reaction to highly stressful situations. As a mental health consultant, I am recommending another option: a “sit” response. It might look like “freeze,” but it includes staying with your or your child’s emotional state and feel the sadness right now, because it’s real.
First, we will work on sitting while we unravel the complex knots that are creating immediate stress within your/our family circle. Here are some things to do at home with your child to alleviate some of the complicated stress affecting you and your child.
- Observe and read your own and your child’s social-emotional state. Adopt the “sit” response by slowing down your reaction to your child’s emotional cues and just sit with your child to quietly observe in the moment as you both self-regulate and calm.
- Reign in your “future thinking”, i.e. stop being the doomsday parent. All the overthinking in the world won’t change that every child in every school all over the country is going through the same thing. Read here about how two kindergarten classrooms are handling their day.
- Relax your expectations but do your best to maintain routines: Make the simple activities of daily living enjoyable: Check out this dad’s grooming ideas, and watch how to motivate young children to clean-up. Developmentally appropriate chores, or as I like to call them “contributions to the household” help build self-efficacy and respect.
Now on to unraveling the bigger social connection threads as we seem to be stuck in crisis mode knots. Here are some images to sit with as you go out into the world each day.
- Find our common thread: Stress and anxiety were already a chronic problem pre-pandemic. So, one way to approach our new normal is to “normal”ize our fears. Thinking about the global pandemic as a common thread currently woven into everyone’s daily existence. Before you get angry at your child for a behavior that they don’t know how to control, look for that common thread and realize he/she is afraid just like you. The same grace goes for your child’s teacher, the grocery store cashier, your partner or spouse. We’re all experiencing the same stress together, but in different ways and at unexpected times.
- Find your unique thread: Think about your own, and your child’s strengths. Are you calm and compassionate? Brave and resilient? Spiritual and prayerful or meditative? Look for ways to weave your unique thread into daily life to lessen the fear that gives way to stress and anxiety.
- Accept the worn-out thread: This may be the news that seems to play on repeat, the person in our family we don’t agree with and who we think causes our stress and anxiety to escalate. You may ask, “Are you for real? Shouldn’t we avoid or cut-off these people?” Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s go back to our common thread and practice radical acceptance. Holding on to that common thread that binds our humanity will help us to sit with the experience of empathy.
Now, I didn’t provide any quick fix to the stress involved in the 2020 back-to-school dilemma, but the hope is to increase our ability to better manage the common stress we are all feeling - because our children are trying to make sense of it all too. Afterall, they’ve only been on this planet for a very short time.
When anxiety, depression and other emotional states become too debilitating for you or your child, it might be time to connect with a Community Reach Center therapist.
Jennifer Welton, MA, MS, LPCC, NCC, is an Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant with Community Reach Center. She has worked with children and adolescents as an educator and in behavioral health settings.