Q: My kids, 8 and 10, have expressed anxieties about things not going back to normal and not being able to go back to school until potentially August. What are some things I can do and say to soothe them?
What a great question this is. I appreciate having the opportunity to address it.
How great it would be, however, if there were a perfect answer, a one-size-fits-all response. But as we know, perfect doesn’t exist. And what works for one person, fails with another.
We do know that children thrive on regularity. And these are certainly not regular times, as they knew regular to be.
Children’s worlds have kind of been turned upside down. Mommy is not usually home all day; you used to go to the park or shopping or on playdates. There are no team practices or Girl Scout meetings. So much has changed. Of course they are worried.
Children do best when things are predictable, when they know what is coming. They feel safe when they see that there is order in the world. It is for this reason that one of the suggestions I made in my blog, Parenting in Pandemic (bit.ly/2xh7065) is to be sure to have a schedule for your children.
When you have a schedule, it frees children up from having to worry or protect against about what might be coming next. They can relax, knowing that they will have to do their reading and then they can play outside.
When life as they knew it is changing every single day, it is a good idea to keep their weekdays regular and separate from their weekends, which have their own regularity. You may modify how you do what you do. But if you play soccer on Saturdays, kick the ball around your yard or on the street during regular soccer practice time.
Make life regular for your children by showing that most of your expectations for your kids have not changed. You still expect them to bathe daily, to brush their teeth, to clean their rooms or whatever. They still have family responsibilities. As much as they will complain, it is a strong statement about what isn’t changing in their lives.
With regard to the anxiety your kids are expressing, are you sure it is anxiety? Or is it just plain old worry? It seems like parents are diagnosing anxiety like it’s a common cold.
The extreme of worry is anxiety. Anxiety is actually a diagnosable condition. It can be debilitating, getting in the way of a person’s ability to function day to day.
I am not saying your children don’t have anxiety; I am saying it is not likely. Sounds like they are worried. And, by the way, who wouldn’t be?
Allow me to say, all human beings have worry. It is one of the conditions that all people experience throughout their lives. Life will hand them lots of things to worry about as they grow. Our job as parents is to help them learn to handle worry, how to get through it.
Worry can sprout in the form of a “what if” situation. And it’s time to talk to your children about “what ifs.”
Any one of us could sit back and say “what if?” about any number of things without ever knowing the answer. What if the fire reaches our house? What if there is an earthquake? What if I don’t get invited to the birthday party? What if I am late for school? What if? What if? What if?
My answer to the what if? question is WHAT IF? I turn that question right around and challenge the child to find the answer. And they always do.
Often they need to talk about it and think it through. That shows them how they can manage the experience and the feeling.
We are all wondering What if? about so many parts of this pandemic. Last night I watched an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” In it, when Jerry didn’t have enough cash to pay for his coffee, he said something to the effect, “I never plan for things. I just know I will take care of it when it happens,” and he pulled out a credit card.
Yes, he is Jerry Seinfeld and he has all those minions doing his work, but I loved his attitude. It was don’t sweat the things you don’t have to sweat … yet. Helping your children to see that you can always find answers when the time comes is tremendously reassuring.
Finally, I need to remind you to do a self-check. How do you feel about all this change? How are you feeling about all the unknowns? Are you worried (and who wouldn’t be)?
If the answer is yes, it’s time to unload on someone else (your partner, your mother, your best friend). It’s the Oxygen Mask Theory that I reference all the time and in my book, “Just Tell Me What to Say.”
Take care of yourself first, so you will be able to take care of your kids. You know that we adults leak. Our kids often take their cues on how to react from the way we react, how to feel from the way we feel.
If you act low key, relaxed and not so worried (which I know may be challenging during these times) your children are more likely to follow your lead. Don’t add to their worry by showing yours.
In fact, show them what you do to alleviate your worries. Maybe you go outside. Maybe you read a great book. Maybe you do something for someone else. Model how you handle your feelings and, in so doing, you teach them to do the same.
Finally, if you need a real pick-me-up, I urge you to treat yourself to an 18-minute viewing of the most uplifting TEDx Talk I have ever seen. It is Dewitt Jones, a photographer for National Geographic, Celebrate What’s Right With the World (youtu.be/gD_1Eh6rqf8).
And let your children watch it with you. It is just the lens change you might need.
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through her website, betsybrownbraun.com.
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