Parents right now are adapting to very different circumstances. We feel a lot of emotion. We feel the responsibility of looking after each other. There are benefits from our being at home and we feel challenged by the uncertainty of what happens next.
On a daily basis we balance our needs as parents and those of our children.
We’ve tried to keep a routine going. Some things stay the same – bedtimes and getting up in the morning at a similar time help. Kids are being asked to spend a lot of time on their own at a screen to keep their education going. We don’t want them to burn out, so we’ve been flexible in new ways. Usually we tidy up after playing games. Normal rules don’t work when we are not in a normal situation.The Lego stays on the lounge floor now, board games are on the dining table. We walk outside and the weather has been good enough to do this most days. We’ll miss meeting up on the back steps for morning tea and afternoon tea when we aren’t able to do this anymore.
Be aware of emotions
Parents are telling me that they feel their emotions go up and down. Each day can be very different. We feel like we have been ambushed, as the change happened quickly. We didn’t have time to process our feelings. Same with our kids. They miss their friends, football games and their band rehearsals. In the past week I checked in with the people in my house. We all feel there are good and bad things about the change. It’s not the same but we’re doing the best we can. Kids are genuinely missing their teachers. “It’s not as good as school” is a ringing endorsement from a teenager and words parents might not expect to hear.
Help kids to process their emotions
Parents can feel overwhelmed by the things they can’t control. We can look after children and help them manage how they feel. Sitting at the computer for long periods is tiring for young adults. Kids are going through a grief process. It’s OK to vent when they are annoyed about the things that they miss. The behaviour we see is a sign of an unmet need. Our job is to figure out what that need is.
Validate the emotions, give them a name – it could be frustration, despair, feeling unmotivated or mixed emotions. Help them to find their own way to cope with how they feel. We don’t have to solve the problem, instead we can let them know we see their struggle. “That sounds hard for you.” We can be on the journey with them.
Think about the sorts of emotions that a child will have when they have been through a sudden and unpredictable change. “I’m bored” is a statement I wouldn’t take at face value. Kids can’t articulate how they feel, especially when the emotions are confusing. Often kids feel guilty when they just aren’t ready to do what they know they need to do. We could translate “I’m bored” to mean something else, like this:
“I am finding it difficult to get started on this work. I don’t feel like doing it yet. I feel bad about not wanting to do it yet. I need some time to get used to what is going on.”
Keeping everything going at home is stressful when we have a lot of worries. When will this end? What will the world be like after it does end? Reacting to the immediate things happening can mean we put our own needs far down the list.
Parents are the resource our kids need. We matter. Small things make a big difference. Make the cup of tea and drink it when it is hot. Put on a clean outfit every morning. Walk around outside – even if it’s just around the block. Parents I have been speaking to this week are telling me that they are more tired than normal and that they need more sleep. Now is a time to put our own needs further up the list even if it is a small way to help us feel better.
Focus on how we make them feel
Everyone in the family is likely to be feeling big emotions right now. When parents face resistance from their children we can choose to respond to the feeling with compassion. We can help meet the need causing the behaviour by thinking of the feelings our child is having. The behaviour is a temporary state and directly connected to the emotion that is going on. It can help to keep this idea in the back of our mind. My child is “having a problem, not being a problem”.
If you think about what people valued BC, a lot of it was stuff. Toys, expensive holidays or flash clothes. Things we thought our kids needed. What matters right now is for us to look after each other. Parents are valuable – we are the only ones who are going to help kids get through this.
Our children will keep adjusting to this very big change for some time to come. Who knows how they see what is going on right now or what they will remember. What our children need to feel is that that when it gets tough I can go to Mum or Dad. We can keep sending the message that we are the ones that they can count on. That’s a message every parent wants to get across to their child all the time. We can come out of this with relationships that are stronger.