Tag Archives: mental health

You scream. I scream. We all scream!!! Understanding Crisis Part 4

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… Understanding Crisis – Part 3

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. 

  1. 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.

In case of emergency…Understanding crisis Part 2

Globally we are experiencing a health crisis, currently known as COVID-19. However, we face crises at various points in our life. Sometimes even daily. Let’s consider crisis as a rollercoaster. We all have a turn on the rollercoaster of crisis. At different points we find ourselves in different places on the ride – waiting in line, sitting down in the seat in as it begins, screaming, gripping, crying as it flings us around various loop, peaks and dips, and finally disembarking. So what is crisis and what are some of the responses to crisis? Where are you at in your roller coaster journey?

What is crisis?

A crisis is an event, set of circumstances, or realization that threatens your physical or emotional wellbeing, and interferes with your daily functioning. 

  • Each person’s response to crisis will be unique. 
  • What may be a crisis for one, may not be for another.
  • A crisis usually involves some sort of loss – whether actual or perceived (loss of a person, state of being, control, security, etc)
  • In a crisis, the situation cannot be ignored and requires a decision of some sort.
  • Old coping strategies may not work, new strategies are needed.
  • A crisis causes a person to question, especially their beliefs and worldview.

How do people respond in crisis?

Each person will respond differently in crisis. But these are some responses a person might experience…

  • Denial – a person may attempt to block the reality of the crisis, because they are just not ready to handle it.
  • Bargaining – a person may try to diminish the situation through quick decisions and rash actions or even bargaining with a higher authority – like God 
  • Anger – a person may feel heightened negative emotions towards themselves or others, and lash out or internalise.
  • Depression – a person may feel completely overwhelmed, at a low point, without hope or devastated.
  • Acceptance – a person may come to terms with the reality of their situation – this is real – but there is a desire to take steps to get out of the situation 
  • Resolution – a person actively takes steps to implement new coping strategies and move out of the crisis in which they find themselves. 

If we consider the roller coaster illustration, some questions you may ask yourself are…

  • What has this ride cost me? Or what do I believe this ride will still cost me?
  • What were my expectations of this ride, while waiting in line?
  • Now that I’m strapped in, what is happening? How does this compare with my expectations?
  • What feelings am I experiencing on this ride? Why do I feel this way?
  • What am I thinking as I take another turn, dip or loop?
  • What did I imagine doing and what am I now doing at each twist and turn? Why am I doing this?
  • Who is sitting with me on this ride?
  • What are they thinking, feeling and doing?
  • How are we responding to one another? What effect is it having on how we each experience the ride?
  • Am I abiding by the safety regulations? Or am I putting myself and others in further danger?
  • What do I know for certain about how this ride plays out? What am I assuming?
  • What is within my control? What is beyond me?
  • Of that which is in my control, what can I do now?

In my next blog, I will look at some practical tips for working through a crisis.

My tummy hurts…

AND OTHER CLUES YOUR CHILD IS STRESSED OUT


“I don’t want to go to school! I’m sick (fake cough). I just want to stay at home.” 

Most mornings, at least one of my kids refuse to get out of bed. And with deep breathes, I aim to get through the morning routine without everything falling apart in and around me. Cooperation is the name of the game when you have 3 small boys (currently 5, 4 and 3) to get ready and out of the house before the peak traffic closes off all exits of your neighbourhood rendering you LATE, yet again. And thatphrase immediately tells me, cooperation is out of the window for today. It’s stressful! It’s stressful for me. It’s stressful for my husband. It’s stressful for my kids. And no one is happy by the time we leave the house. On these mornings, my response can be summed up as – this is life, suck it up, we have a job to do now, let’s get going. And when we finally get in the car, I realise how I gave into my base emotions, let absolute chaos reign and apologise for turning into the mom-monster yet again. (Is it just me?)

But every now and then, I can see that this “I don’t want to go to school” is a bit more serious, and a sign that things are just too much to handle right now. On these days, things run a little differently… 

We all have stress – in today’s society, I think this is an understatement. We all have A TRUCK LOAD of stress! But at what point does it become a problem? And how do we know we’ve crossed that line? How do we know if our children have crossed that line, and how do we help them?

What is  fear / anxiety / stress?

These three emotions are very closely linked, and can often feel like the same thing.

Fear is a reaction to a present threat, with negative emotions and motivation to escape or avoid danger or threat. (That ice cold, heart thumping feeling when an angry strong individual starts walking straight towards you at a pace.)

Anxiety is a reaction to a future threat, again with negative emotions. The future event can be perceived as something important or difficult. (That uneasy feeling and questioning, ‘will I pass the upcoming exams?’)

Stress is a reaction to a demand that one feels one cannot cope with, or threatens to disrupt one’s life in some way. (That panicky feeling when you have too much to do, in too little time – like loads of homework, along with all the extramural activities. Or getting 3 uncooperative little ones ready before being late.)

All three can be good and necessary for survival  and moving forward through difficult circumstances. For example, avoiding confrontations with stronger people, can keep you from physical harm. A little nervousness about an exam or sport event, can encourage you to study or practice harder, and develop your skill. A challenging task can cause you to push yourself to new heights. 

The problem is when they become overwhelming and lead to further disruption, or dysfunction (this is where we may to enter into psychological disorders). For example,  avoiding all sports or parties or school events because I’m afraid of being attacked. Not being able to concentrate because you believe you will fail the exam no matter how hard you try, till eventually you don’t bother at all. Not being able to sleep because you have too much to do, and your adrenaline is pumping that you can’t shut off at night, and then can’t stay awake in class. 

In short, there is definitely a problem when:

  • fear remains after threat has disappeared or fear is bigger than the situation warrants
  • when worrying about something so much that one can’t even face normal daily tasks
  • feeling one cannot cope with daily life and withdrawing from all activity 
  • becoming physically ill because the body’s defences are depleted from continuous stress. 

What are the clues that my child has a problem?

If some stress, fear or anxiety is good, then allowing children to experience it is necessary. We often want to protect our children from what is negative – but a healthy dose is necessary for learning, growth and future success. But, knowing when our children are heading towards something that is harmful, allows us to intervene before it becomes devastating. So how do you know when your child (or yourself) might be headed for the unhealthy version of stress, anxiety or fear? Children express themselves through behavior. If we spend time with our children, and know them well, we will be able to pick up on their behaviours which are out of the ordinary. When children don’t understand what is going on inside of themselves, or they know something is wrong but don’t have the words, they act out. Stress, anxiety and fear may show themselves in the following ways:

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits (too much/too little, nightmares, fears about sleeping, waking odd hours, not falling asleep)
  • Physical complaints (stomach aches, headaches, constant illness)
  • Change in mood and behavior (demotivated, restless, forgetful, irritable, fighting, bullying, avoiding places/people, clinginess, tantrums, disobedience, oppositional, self-injury, alcohol/drugs)
  • Change in school performance (drop in marks, disruptive, impulsive, inattentive, dependent on teacher, incomplete work)

When you notice a significant change in your child, over a period of time, start to ask questions. 

What causes of stress/ fear/anxiety?

The causes of stress or fear or anxiety are numerous. In fact, anything can cause a negative emotion. A stressor can happen once, or it can happen over, and over. It can be big and it can be small. Some stressors include:

  • Universally threatening events – things generally considered dangerous – crime, bullying, including cyber-, natural disaster, gangsterism, violence in schools
  • Major life events – anything that causes disruption – divorce, moving house, changing school, friends leaving, choosing subjects, examinations, parent’s absence, displacement, change of caregivers
  • Daily hassles – the small everyday things, that can build up and become taxing – homework, sports, relationships, friendships, traffic, aftercare, change in routine, social media, technology, transport, rushing to get ready
  • Demands of life – high expectations to excel, to have certain possessions, popularity, expectations of customs and culture
  • Lack of resources – unemployment and poverty, large classes, lack of academic support,  lack of parental involvement, personal disconnection due to technology and busyness

What can be done to help a stressed child?

In as much as an event can cause stress, stress is is also caused by the way we think about and interpret events, how we are able to handle our emotions, as well as our temperament and physical response to stress (hormones, brain structure, etc). If we think about children, the younger they are, the more at risk they are – immature brain structure, unable to understand or manage emotions yet, unable to cognitively process events. So as adults, our role is to bring external resources around our children, to reduce the stress they are exposed to, as well as to equip them with coping skills to be able to face stressors and manage them well. Some things we can do as parents, teachers, or whatever role you may have in a child’s life to help include:

  • In the moment – stop and breath (this helps the body calm down and process stress physically). 
  • Talk through daily problems (what they are feeling, why, what can they do, what do they need help with) – find solutions together
  • Create time for fun, relaxation and gratitude – this allows the body to produce ‘happy hormones’ and redirect mental focus onto the good.
  • Parenting/teaching towards empowering children – develop their strengths and learn how to problem-solve. 
  • Spend quality time with your child and create a structured and stable environment – children need a safe space, where they know what to expect and need to feel loved and accepted as they are.
  • Learn to manage your own stress well, and be an example of how to work through challenges and focus on what is good.
  • Make necessary changes – when you come to the place where you or your child are doing what you can to cope, you may need to consider getting away from the stressor. 
  • When you notice stress/anxiety/fear is becoming overwhelming and interfering with everyday life, ask for help. Speak to someone who can assist you and your child in recongising the causes, understanding the feelings and developing coping skills. 

So back to those mornings where not wanting to go to school is a clue that life is just too tough right now… in the midst of the chaos, we stop.  We breathe deeper. We risk being late. We ask questions. We hear what the problem is, talk through solutions and end with connection and reassurance. For the most part, we’ve successfully managed to overcome these challenges then and there – other times, we’ve had to make some changes to our lifestyle or have had some tough conversations. Being aware of the clues means we can step in and assist our children before it becomes unmanageable. So be mindful, be present and be aware of what your children are communicating to you. And as you help them navigate the little stressors, you help them develop skills for the long term.