How to Provide Support for our Children During Covid 19.
It is very challenging to be a parent during these times because we are being tested in every single way. We must be aware that we can project our fears onto our children, but it is difficult to realize it because we have a blind spot just like the one on our cars. Keep in mind that our children are their own person and they don’t have to be like us, think like us, or act like us to be a good person. A lot of the times we think of ourselves as the only right example, but it is not the only option. There are many other ways to live – they are not necessarily wrong, just different. Let’s stop comparing our children with us and with how we were raised and with what we did or would do. This will give them the freedom to be themselves and will also allow us to accept them as we grow our relationship with them, which will put an end to most of the problems that we have with them.
Covid 19 has put our relationship with them to the test. As parents, we want to protect our children from suffering and we would do anything to take their pain away.
Something that is important to recognize is that taking their pain away is impossible. When we rescue our children, we might hurt them in our intent and we will lose the opportunity to let them develop and teach them skills to deal with difficult situations in the future.
When children haven’t learned to tolerate frustration because they have always been rescued, they may turn to addictive behaviors as a result, since they never learn to deal with difficult situations.
Here are some examples of how we might hurt our children in a particular situation that are not helpful when trying to rescue them.
When our children express their concerns, or fear to us and we say:
“Don’t worry, we are going to be fine”
(Here we are trying to rescue them from the uncomfortable feeling of fear and worry).
First, we are invalidating their emotions, because we are telling them that they shouldn’t fear or worry. This would make them feel disconnected from us and will make them doubt themselves. They might be left thinking there might be something wrong with them because they shouldn’t be feeling that way. Second, we are lying to them because we really don’t know if they are going to be fine. Another way to respond that is not helpful is telling them “we have gone through harder things in our own lives, we have survived and we are fine,” therefore, they shouldn’t worry about it because they will be fine. Our intention is to use our experience to help them learn, but it is not going to work. It will only patronize them and diminish their experience.
There is nothing worse for our children than telling them that we know how they feel because the reality is that we don’t. They belong to a different generation, in a different time and living through a different set of circumstances. Living in this electronic era is something that we can claim to understand, but we really don’t.
Children are facing difficult times right now because they are stuck at home,, they miss being connected to their friends and electronics are a big temptation to fill their day, but at the same time they feel guilty because we constantly remind them that they spend too much time on their phones or playing video games.
It is very challenging because parents are busy trying to reinvent themselves or trying to keep their jobs and now also having to take care of their children while they spend more time on their own, and the easiest thing to do for children is be in their electronics.
So, how can we help our children develop skills to deal with the current situation?
- Becoming aware of ourselves
Our children are going to look at us to see how to react when there is a threat. So, it is very important for us as parents to be aware of this and how we react. More than likely they will mirror our attitude towards the threat. Let’s help our children to focus on what they can control to keep them healthy, such as washing their hands, wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and eating healthy. Taking these actions will help reduce the anxiety and prevent them from getting sick.
- Validating their emotions
Validating our children’s emotions is important so that they do not feel alone or awkward. When we validate their emotions, they feel understood, heard and they know that we are there with them and for them. For example: If our children say “I am sad because I miss my friends,” validation would be telling them something like this: “We are going through difficult times and I can imagine how difficult it is for you not see your friends and not knowing when you will see them again, I can see that.”
For us as parents. it is difficult to do this because sitting with the negative feeling can be very uncomfortable, but it will help our children to move through these feelings and learn to deal with them. Then, we can wait for them to say something and we follow them. We can answer their questions and concerns. It is important to answer with facts, maybe statistics if they understand them and be honest.
- Help them create a plan or a routine
It is also important to acknowledge that we all are doing the best we can, and that the situation we are living is not going to be ideal for now. We are in survival mode trying to keep the ship from sinking. Our children already know that being on their electronics is not the best thing to do. Instead of reminding them about it, maybe we could help them with creating a plan of how else they could spend their time doing something that is safe and something that they are interested in. So, when we are busy or gone, they will know what to do. Schedule a facetime call with a friend or groups of friends. Take an online class or choose some books that they are interested in reading. Help them create a routine that they can follow. Making space for family time after work or at dinner is important to hear where our kids are emotionally at. Remind them how much we love them and appreciate them.
4.Help them connect with their feelings
Children have a difficult time understanding their needs and their feelings. Children might miss their friends and usually they won’t realize the intensity of those feelings until it has a big impact on them. It is important to check-in with them about their emotions and their needs regularly. As parents, we can guide them through that process. When we help our children to explore their own feelings, they will uncover a negative feeling that is unfulfilled or not being addressed. Helping our children through this process can help them get what they need to feel better and stay connected with us.
- Negotiate clear rules
It is important to negotiate with our children a way to spend their time and set clear rules and expectations that they agree on so that we are not continuously nagging them. A parent’s disappointment can lead to lower their self-esteem and create both guilt and anxiety in our children.
- Be reasonable with our expectations for our children and encourage them to participate with chores.
As parents we are experiencing a lot of stress and might be overwhelmed with the current situation. At the same time, our expectations about our children helping at home can be too high because we are overwhelmed with work and chores. If we have taught our children before Covid 19 to help us around the house, it will be easier to continue with the chores. However, if we have never done that before, we can’t expect their behavior to change just because it makes sense based on what is going on outside our world. We can be creative in how we commit our children to do chores, but we can’t pretend that suddenly they will become the extra help that we need. In the past, most children were raised under fear and would do anything parents would ask because they didn’t want to be hit, humiliated or scolded. But those time are over. In this era, children have gained a lot of ground in terms of their sense of self-respect and awareness of both the legality and inappropriate nature of physical threats and abuse. We can’t compare what worked with us as children and what will work with children today.
- Get help if necessary
If you believe that you have done everything possible to support your children, and you believe that your child is still facing difficulties, don’t hesitate to get help from a professional. These are difficult times and we have never been here before. We have no experience or training to call on in these unchartered waters.
Cristina Deneve, MA, AMFT
Micahel Uram, MA, LMFT, LPC