So you are an essential worker. Some will see you as “lucky” to be able to work. Others may believe it is better if you “just stay home regardless.” You may go back and forth between feeling grateful, happy, anxious, guilty, angry, and scared. Like …
Dear 12th grader, I know these last few weeks have not been what you thought they would be. You had all of these plans. You have worked so hard to get here. Your dreams feel like they are slipping away. It’s just not fair. You …
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??
As I have been in meetings with different folks about mental wellness during this unprecedented time in our history, I have heard and felt similar things that make this pandemic especially hard. I thought I would share them here in case anyone else was feeling …
Looking for some tips on how to talk about COVID-19 and answer their questions? Look no further! Give this short video a look and be sure to Follow us on Facebook for even more updates @ https://www.facebook.com/MWMwithKids/ Click HERE to watch the video! …
This morning, I woke up early to head out to the grocery to grab a few things we were running low on around the house. I had a relatively short list of items – flour, ground turkey, rice, laundry detergent, and noodles. I hadn’t been to the store in about 8 or 9 days – and the last time I went out, the shelves were still stocked fairly well (with the exception of the TP and soap sections). I saw the Facebook posts of friends who were strolling the isles of empty shelves, but didn’t experience it personally. Until this morning.
Empty shelves immediately prompt fear, anxiety, and scarcity mentality
As I perused isles of empty shelves, I found my anxious thoughts growing. “What if we don’t have enough protein?” “How much longer before they get more chicken?” “What will my kids eat if they don’t get more in stock?”
And as my anxious thoughts continued to spin, I found my stomach beginning to churn with fear and anxiety.
After a few minutes, I stopped and looked in my cart. I shifted my focus away from what I didn’t have to what I DID have. I found soap and ice cream. 🙂 I got rice and canned vegetables. I found grapes. I got taco seasoning to make tacos with the ground turkey I bought last week. As I shifted my focus, I found my anxiety lessening.
I found a couple other things that we needed and then came home. Realizing as I unloaded all the groceries, that I got WAY more than my anxiety told me I did. And it struck me that I hadn’t experienced fear or anxiety because I hadn’t left the house in 8 or 9 days to go to the store.
And it hit me… staying at home is not just for our physical health, but for our emotional and psychological health, too! Staying home protects us physically, but also mentally and emotionally, too.
Anxiety breeds on fear-based thoughts. In our current situation, I truly believe the saying “ignorance is bliss” fits perfectly. If I hadn’t seen and experienced the empty shelves for myself, I wouldn’t have been feeling worried or anxious this morning. And if I am being honest, I wouldn’t have been irritable for the next hour as my anxiety was working its way back down.
So what do we do?
Stay home if you can.
Period. That’s all. 🙂 Get out of the house and walk around your neighborhood, but otherwise, stay close to home.
Be creative with what you have in your pantry already.
My friend, Laura Brandt, and I were texting this morning as we were both grocery shopping and she mentioned it feeling a bit like being on the show, Chopped. And I thought… well, let’s just go with that! Kids would LOVE if you pretended you were on the show, Chopped! Pick a few random things from your pantry and fridge and go at it!
Stay focused on gratitude for what we have.
I cannot understate how helpful this was for me this morning, and always when I recommend this to clients and parents. Focus on what you have currently. Model this gratitude for your kids as they ask why they can’t go places. Engage with family and friends through technology to spread gratitude with others. Write a gratitude note on the fridge each day. Ask your kids what they are thankful for as we continue to be social distancing.
How are YOU finding peace and happiness amidst all of these changes?? Please share so we all can grab some new ideas!
As we continue to grapple with the seemingly unending changes, we are continuing to find resources for sharing these changes with our kids. I have come up with an acronym (PRESS) to help us remember how to talk with our kids about hard things – …
We have all been experiencing the disappointment, frustration, sadness, confusion…. about missing out on our favorite things right now. They have cancelled our favorite classes, our favorite activities, closed our favorite restaurants and local gyms. In one way or another, all of us have felt …
As the world is reacting and coming together in response to the recent changes to our everyday lives, I have been contacted a few times to share thoughts on how to best talk with our kids about what is happening. So here are a few tips as you enter into tough conversations about the coronavirus.
What you should know.
- Do NOT talk about people dying from coronavirus with your kids. Let me say that again. Do NOT tell them people are dying. Stick with me here. I’m not saying we lie to them. But I am saying there are a few good reasons to just keep this from them if possible.
- Their anxiety shoots through the roof if you tell them there is a risk of death. And although the risk is present for elderly and those with a compromised immune system – the risk is actually VERY low for children. In fact, when I was researching, I found numerous credible sites that said there have been less than 1% of the deaths be children.
- Stay focused on messages of safety and security. They really are at a very low risk of getting fatally sick. Keep in mind… Unless you constantly remind them of the risks of riding in a car, breaking their leg at the playground, getting struck by lightning… just keep the coronavirus death toll an adult-only topic as well. 🙂 (PS – DO not talk to them about the risks of getting into a car accident!)
- IF they ask, you can tell them the facts. PLEASE review CDC’s website for the FACTS about people dying. For example, if they say, “Could you die from it?” – You could say, “There have been some people who have passed away from this. BUT those people have been mostly individuals who are very old. Most people who are healthy and young who get this sickness just have to take several days of rest and keep washing their hands to get well again.” Remember to end your statements with messages of safety and security.
- When they hear people are dying, their anxiety goes up – which causes them to KEEP asking more and more questions about it. Which then… causes US, as parents, to feel more anxious and irritated and fearful. Again, I am not saying we lie to them, but I am saying we don’t have to tell our kids everything. Particularly kids under the age of 8 or 9 who honestly may not even have the capacity to understand it all anyway.
- Limit their viewing of news outlets or other forms of media that describe the ongoing situation. Instead, YOU be a good consumer of the information. Know the facts. Investigate the facts. Then share if the time/situation arises and seems appropriate. If kids watch the news and hear one thing that scares them – they are likely to take it out of context or misunderstand the full meaning.
- Kids operate better when there is structure. This comes through routines and clear expectations. The RAPID changes they have been experiencing with school closures, work closures, etc. MAY be uprooting their sense of security. Basically, when the routine is off, their sense of safety is off.
- So what will this look like in your child? It may look like irritability, anger, sadness, crying, problems sleeping, restlessness, moodiness, neediness, fear, anxiety, depression, changes in appetite and/or bids for constant reassurance. If your child is experiencing these things – and it seems out of the ordinary for them, having a conversation with them may help (see below for tips!).
- Since we know they need structure, it is our job to try to find a new normal as quickly as possible. With most school districts around us moving to e-learning, it would be good for you to try to get a new “e-learning routine” going. Routines create consistency which decreases anxiety in our kids. Get creative by web-searching “printable routines for kids” to create a new VISUAL schedule for them (and you!). Share the importance of staying on track with them as you show them their new routine.
- The CDC has a pretty good list of suggestions for things to keep in mind about anxiety with kids during disasters/emergencies. Here are a few scripts you could use to get the conversations started, keep it going, and manage their questions.
- “Hey Mason, what have you heard about the coronavirus?” – Or any question that is an open-ended question about what they currently know. This will give you a place to start, and a way to clarify any misinformation. And trust me… there is LOTS of misinformation out there.
- “Hey. I know there are a lot of changes happening. How are you feeling about everything that has changed?” – Again, this is an open-ended question to help them see that we know things are changing and we are checking in with them about it. This may also be a good time to share your feelings. “You know something…I have been feeling a little uneasy about everything, too. I am not sure how things will go these next few weeks and I tend to get a little nervous when things seem unknown or out of my control. Have you felt any of that?”
- If your child is younger, “Hey Amelia. Next week, you get to stay home to do school at home with us! 🙂 There has been some sickness going around and teachers/staff wanted to make sure everyone stays healthy. So we are going to stay home and make it like an adventure.”
- If they ask about what it is, is it dangerous, should we be afraid, etc. If you do nothing else… SHARE MESSAGES OF SAFETY AND SECURITY. “You are safe here as long as we keep washing our hands, getting good sleep, and eating healthy.” “Your friends are safe.” “Grandma and grandpa are safe. They are just hanging out at home.”
- Use technology – like FaceTime or WhatsApp to keep in contact with people. We love using FaceTime or WhatsApp to connect with family and friends who live both near and far. Set a play date and let the kids walk around with your phone while they “play” and show off their creations.
We have already seen how people can come together to make this outcome something that is good for all of us. Allow your kids to just be kids through this. Be excited they have some time home from school. Be creative about using the upcoming staycation (quarantine) for something fun or adventurous. The short story, even in the midst of outer chaos, we can be the calm amidst the storm for them.
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