We have made it halfway through 2020. When this year started, no one could have predicted what the year had in store for us. All of us have experienced uncertainty on a level we have not experienced before, and it does not look like life will become more certain anytime soon. While this is a challenge for us all, it is especially a challenge for those of us with children. What can we do to help our children through these times?
Help yourself first. What parts of the uncertainty you are feeling can you control? If you are working fewer hours or got laid off, how can you build a side hustle into steady income? If you are being asked to go back to work on-site, or never stopped because you were an essential worker who can watch your children? Do you have family or friends who could help? Do you need to consider outside child care such as TOOTRiS, so that you can focus on what you need to do at work while knowing your child is safe? If you are struggling to pay for housing or food, what programs are available in your community. A surprising number of organizations recognize how challenging today is and are giving away everything from food to grants. If you find you are worried about a million things, you will not be able to give your full attention to your children’s needs. Take care of your own needs so you can be there for your children.
Next, after helping yourself, it is time to turn to your children. Listen to what your children are saying, as well as how they may be expressing themselves non-verbally. For many children, especially young children, verbalizing what they are experiencing can be hard. As parents, we can learn a lot from deepening conversations with our children. Sometimes saying things like “My tummy hurts” is their way of expressing what they are feeling. Also, for children, struggles with the uncertainty they are facing, or their response to the uncertainty of their parents can lead to acting out and other disruptive behavior.
These behaviors can stress us out as parents and create a negative feedback loop where parents and kids become more irritable and quicker to lash out at each other and ourselves. This is why it is also important to recognize that in uncertain times our children’s struggles with mental health can be heightened and overwhelm the support networks they had in place in the past. With students not getting the in-person classroom experiences they used to, it’s even more important to be aware of and understand how your children are doing mentally. This is because teachers and others are having fewer chances to notice a change in behaviors. As a parent, this noticing is now up to you.
Finally, find ways for your children to get their feelings out. It could be through conversations with you or another trusted adult. Or maybe it’s through writing or art. Perhaps it’s through movement or exercise. Once you have helped your child express their feelings guide them into healthy ways to self-regulate, such as slow breathing, yoga, having a safe space for them to release intense emotion, or creating schedules or patterns which add-in much-needed certainty. Self-regulation does not come easy, especially when a child is dealing with a strong emotion they can not explain.
2020 is a year that we all are going to remember for years to come. As parents, we can feel like we have no control and don’t know how to support our children. This can be very frustrating and lead us to take out our emotions on those we love, such as spouses or even our children. We want to be good parents, and to do so means taking care of ourselves, listening to our children, and helping our children find ways to express their own emotions.