During lockdown, we went from sending our children to school, to becoming their teacher’s overnight. As we continue to navigate this challenging and ever-changing time, here are some insights to help you navigate how you work with your children at home.
The rush and thrill of riding a rollercoaster inevitably thrusts a person to lose all dignity and composure. Without warning, from deep in your gut comes out a shrill shriek of fear or delight. At home, this often happens – an emotional explosion which erupts as fiercely as a volcano – usually resulting in tears, angry words, storming off and finally apologies. This is especially true when emotions are raw during a crisis season.
Just as adults need to work through the rollercoaster of crisis – firstly understanding what it is, where you are in the journey and what you are thinking, feeling and doing – you as an adult and parent can also assist your child to work through their own experience of crisis.
Children experience crisis in their own way as well. Often we can misunderstand their behaviour as defiance, tantrums or disobedience, when in fact it may be an expression of insecurity, overwhelming emotion or dysregulation. Things that cause you as an adult crisis, may not factor in your child’s life – yet the simplest things that we overlook, may cause great distress for your child.
So even though you may be seated next to one another through this roller coaster of crisis, you are likely to engage in a very different experience.
How can you help your child get through a crisis?
- Connection – Love is safety
Just as we need grounding and a moment to pause, so do our children. The best way for a child to feel at ease and safe is in the care of their loved ones.
Moms and dads, hold your child. Spend time playing with your child. Listen to your child. Let them have a moment with you where they know: All might be in chaos, but right now, I am safe! Use these moments of connection to help your child express their feelings. Reassure them that they are heard and validate their feelings. Be empathetic and see the world through their eyes. Communicate what you see in them, so that they are able to recognize what they are going through.
In doing this you give them a ‘snap-shot’ of their experience.
- Consistency – Regain a sense of normalcy
When everything feels out of control, one of the best ways to create a sense of normalcy for a child is to engage with a consistent environment.
What are some of your child’s favorite toys or games – use these to comfort and connect. Maintain the morning and evening routines, as best as possible. Create a basic daily plan that helps you and your child know what can be expected in a day.
Be consistent in your discipline and emotional responses – big freak-outs, rash punishments or pushing things under the rug do not help. Instead put a few guidelines or rules in place, with consequences. When these are overstepped, give the consequences calmly and consistently. Allow your child to experience their anger towards these consequences, then once things have calmed down talk about their choices, their feelings and more appropriate responses. Remember to connect with affection and remind them that they are loved unconditionally, but that specific behaviour is unacceptable.
When things go pear-shaped (because we all lose it sometimes), own your own role in the fall out, apologise and work through the steps of explaining your own feelings, unacceptable responses and how you would do things differently. Allow them to do the same and reconnect in a meaningful way.
- Can dos – Develop coping skills
Help your child figure out what they can do in a situation. After feeling connected and safe, help them to develop the skills and tools they need to take action and regain control of the little that they can.
Give them the opportunity to come up with ideas and manage their own boredom. Let them try new things (within safe boundaries). In your routine, give them the opportunity to decide on certain activities for the day. Chores may be a bore, but it helps them develop real-life skills, and can be fun with some creativity. Go for a walk, in the garden. Create an obstacle course in your house. Play board games or do home science experiments – let them learn through trial and error, losing and learning, and problem solving. Read stories and ask them questions “between the lines”, what/how/why do you think…? Ask them what would make them feel better/safer and help them work practically towards that.
As we all sit together on this rollercoaster ride, let me encourage you to engage in this process as both an individual and as one rider surrounded by many others. Make time daily to be alone and process where you are at. Step back and look at the situation with fresh perspective – a snapshot of your own experience, from the view of others, through the eyes of your little one. See what action you can take today to manage the moment you find yourself in.
Reach out to the people in the seats nearest to you – especially your children, engage one another and come together in this time of fear and insecurity. At some point the roller coaster must come to an end. How we experience the ride and how we disembark will depend on how we handle the journey now. Don’t do it alone. Let’s do this together! Perhaps as we come to the other side of this ride, what started as the ride from hell, turned out to be one hell of a ride!
Fasten your seatbelt. We’re in for a bumpy ride!
As the rollercoaster of crisis gains momentum we may find ourselves experiencing a multitude of responses and feelings. However, before you seat yourself there are usually a few rules which are communicated for your safety. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden one, but if I remember correctly, it usually follows the idea of – remain seated for the duration of the ride, ensure safety belt is secured properly, keep hands and feet inside the cart at all times, etc.
How can you get through a crisis?
Each person’s journey through crisis will be different, and this post is not a one-size-fits-all or a total solution, and professional consultation is recommended if you find yourself overwhelmed. These 3 steps will assist you in being able to identify where you are at and taking a step in the right direction towards resolution.
- STOP – Breathe. Ground yourself.
While this won’t get you off the rollercoaster in reality, you need to take a moment withdraw from the crazy, quieten your body and mind and take a ‘snap-shot’ of where you are at.
Practically this may mean withdrawing for an hour or so to think and reflect. You may need to do this daily – or more often.
- Take a walk (under lockdown, without a garden space this might not be an option)
- Go into a room alone (again depending on your space – you may just need to sit in a space and ask family members to leave you alone for a few moments. Or you may need to do this when everyone is sleeping)
- Breathe deeply and slowly
- Practice mindfulness – use your body senses to ground yourself in reality (hear, feel, see, smell what is around you at present).
- Meditate or pray – be attentive and intentional about what you are thinking about – bring your scattered thoughts to one idea
- ASSESS – Recognise what has changed and your understand your current reality
In view of the roller coaster, you need to get a still photograph of the scene. With an external perspective you are able to see things differently and with clarity and begin to wade through the various elements that need to be tackled. Use the questions from my previous blog post “In case of emergency…” to assist with this.
Once you are able to get a look at your situation, you can begin to reflect on where you find yourself and why. Some elements are concrete – something has changed, and brought with it consequences which may or may not be uncontrollable. Some elements are intangible – our perceptions, emotions, our future actions or what-ifs. These need to be identified and paired with actual skills, tools and strategies that we have or may still need to develop.
Part of assessing the situation is also to be able to recognize both the positive and the negative. Crisis can be both a period of danger and an opportunity for growth. The practice of gratitude can help you as you look through your situation and recognize what is good.
- ACTION – What one thing can you do right now?
Once you have identified where you are at, and once you are able to see possible options, you need to make decisions. What one thing can you do? Implement it. That’s one step towards resolution. Now look at the next one. Action often starts out small. It may simply be calling a friend and being honest about not being ok. It may require discussing a plan with your partner to take turns engaging the children so the other can work, creating a routine that allows quiet play or tv time to allow for work to continue, or space to self-care. It may mean picking up the phone and making an appointment with a counsellor or psychologist (via online or telephonic means at this time). It may require you to create a daily budget and meal plan. It may require you to contact your employer or bank. It may mean an hour of uninterrupted play with your children before picking up your cellphone or turning on the computer or TV. It may mean rethinking how you do business.
Often in times of crisis we become introspective and can disengage others. One action plan may be to recognize what you have, and see how you can meet someone else’s need. While you may not have answers for yourself, you may be the answer to someone else’s crisis, and that empowers you to live beyond your current limitations. Why not make contact with your domestic worker or employees a few times a week to hear how they are doing, and encourage them. Consider donating to the solidarity response fund (the little you have may be the answer to someone else’s nothing – and together our little can add up to a lot). There are many creative ways in which we can still engage with others in this time.
So as we live through the thrashing, jolting and gravity defying twists and turns of the current crisis we face, engage these few steps and be present in your ride. Who knows how it will end? One hell of a ride? Or the ride from hell? Only time will tell. But your outlook, choices and actions will play a key role in your experience of it.