As we recently received news that social distancing will continue for another month, I thought I would share some ideas for you to consider as we are entering another month of social distancing with our kids. I recently made a post about why COVID-19 is especially hard for us now. I do not want to sound negative, but I do want to share what I have seen from kids in my clinical practice over the years – in situations that I believe psychologically parallel our current situation. And if you haven’t had a chance to talk to your kids yet about coronavirus, feel free to check out my other blog (and video) post about it as well.
So here’s the thing about where we are currently. I like to consider our current situation to be similar to a running race. Imagine you have signed up for a race (like a 5K or 10K or something). And you are running along. Maybe halfway through. Maybe further. What you begin to notice is that there is NO END line. After running for minutes or hours, you stop and realize there is no finish line.
Can you imagine that feeling? Perhaps you feel defeated? exhausted? angry? confused? perhaps a lack of motivation to keep running? maybe hopeless or “what’s the use?” sort of feeling?
The lack of certainty around the re-opening of things during the current pandemic is sorta like this for our kids (and even us). We are in this race with no certain finish line. Even if the finish line were far away, it would be easier to know how to pace ourselves – more so than the uncertainty of the current situation. And so, our kids are likely to be experiencing similar emotions to those you may have imagined for yourself above.
Emotional states to watch for
I have seen kids respond to situations where there isn’t clarity for a “way out” in three predominant ways.
- Apathy (an “I don’t really care” attitude) and/or lack of motivation. For anything.
- Anger and irritability. In somewhat unpredictable ways. Almost like… they are okay one minute and then sorta grumpy the next.
- Hopelessness. This is deeper than apathy. This may be more like “what’s the use?” or “who cares about anything anyway” sort of attitude. And although I don’t want to scare anyone, this may also lead to increased thoughts of death, dying, or suicide.
You see, we aren’t great at continuing down a path that may feel hard or uncomfortable – unless we know there is something good at the end of it. So for our kids, and especially our teens, who have had lots of important (to them) things being cancelled, they may not see a whole lot of good at the end of this. What is all of this social distancing for? What will be the prize at the end? In short, our kids may experience increase emotional states because it is hard and uncomfortable and they aren’t able to see the good at the end of it. Please hear me. I am NOT saying social distancing isn’t bringing good to our world, our health, and our community. What I am saying, is that YOUR CHILD may not be able to see it that way – because their brains are not developed enough to see it that way.
What do we do?
So if we see our kids start to struggle a little bit more – behaviorally and/or emotionally – as we are continuing in this “race” toward a finish line in the “somewhere future”, here are a few things you can consider.
- Be a model of how you want them to stay motivated. If you notice they are sleeping in later, ask yourself….am I sleeping in later? It’s not a problem that you are! Instead – consider allowing your teen to sleep a little later, too. Mostly, I’m suggesting we take a look within ourselves to see what behaviors we are modeling for our kids – that may either be helping or not helping them stay motivated.
- Talk about anger – during times when they aren’t angry. You have probably heard me talk about something like this a lot. But the truth is, our kids are excellent at sharing if we give them the space and listening ears. Ask them to share what they are mad about. What is the worst part of this? Have them draw a picture or write in a boomerang book (that you share back and forth with one another each day). Feel free to chat about any emotion! The idea here is to practice talking about things while your child is calm so he/she can more clearly articulate his/her feelings.
- You may not want to read this, but watch for signs of suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a list of warning signs and Cincinnati Children’s also has a list for teens specifically. One of the biggest myths around suicide is that talking about it will “prompt” the child to do it. This just simply isn’t true – and often one of the biggest warning signs is when a child talks about wanting to die or kill him/herself. Seek help through a crisis line like 1-800-273-TALK or if you believe your child may be in immediate danger, call 911 or go to the ER.
- Stay present, stay active, stay engaged. In the world where numbing out is so easy to do, this recommendation for “what do we do?” is among the most important. Resist the temptation to check social media. Resist the urge to turn on that series. Not all day, everyday, obviously! BUT… we will likely never get this much time with our kids again. Find YOUR way to be present, stay active and stay engaged.
What’s your way??