These are definitely unusual times. As I watch one kid playing outside (by himself) and the other trying to figure out home-schooling, I’m trying to remember what ‘normal’ looks like; and when we might get back there again. Like how many felt after the realities of 9/11 sank in, even when we do get back to our lives, it might not be as we’ve known it. There’s much to figure out, and there are many unknowns. If this is daunting for adults, we can absolutely assume that it’s also daunting for our kids, especially those who have never experienced a crisis.
As with each national crisis that has come before this one, eventually time and life will move on and we’ll get past this. Meanwhile, there’s the now to get through, and stability to create in our homes. We are a couple of weeks in to this quarantine, and maybe nerves are already close to being shot.
Fear, worry, frustration, and sadness might be new bedfellows, and tension is beginning to mount. Our kids are smack in the middle of it, and being affected in all of the ways that adults are: isolation, worry, disrupted schedule, fear of the unknown, lost opportunities…and what’s worse, not many have the emotional coping skills to handle it well.
So how can we help our kids keep their sanity in the midst of all this mess? Like the oxygen mask on an airplane, the answer is to keep our own sanity first. Kids feed off of their parents’ vibe, and model the coping skills that we demonstrate. If we’re freaking out, chances are they will too. If you need to freak out, do it, everyone is; but do it away from the kids. They’re listening, and they’re watching our response. If we are calm, positive, and resist sensationalizing the ‘what could happens’, then chances are they will be more level-headed as well.
Creating stability in chaos is the key to helping our kids fight Corona-anxiety. Here are some tips:
1. Acknowledge Their Emotions
Kids of all ages need a safe place to vent. Pretending what they’re experiencing is no big deal will invalidate their need to express and release difficult emotions. Not going to prom or graduation is a loss. Not seeing friends in person (especially since adolescents thrive on social interaction) is a legitimate downer. As well, not understanding home-school can make a child feel inadequate and stressed, which often comes out as anger, tears, and frustration. Like adults, they need grace and freedom to feel these things, which is a significant part of learning to cope. There’s a time and place to help our kids see the positive; however, try to resist ‘turning that frown upside down’ too soon, and before they’ve had a chance to actually confront and deal with their feelings.
2. Create Structure and Give Grace
Kids of all ages need structure, either to give them a sense of normalcy or to help them stay on track with their responsibilities. Thankfully most schools have provided some structure and kids are staying busy most of the day. Remember to schedule in breaks. Learning online is a different type of learning, one that not all kids will thrive under. Try to give them grace that maybe this won’t be the quarter that they rock. Circumstances are challenging and unlike anything any of us have encountered before. Teachers are stressed trying to get their jobs done, and parents have become involuntary tutors. Tensions may flare, which is totally understandable given the climate. Your child will not ruin their lives if grades slip some; just knowing this can be a big stress reliever. With that being said, they should apply themselves and exhaust every available resource, but not to the detriment of their mental well-being.
3. Find Creativity and Connection
Kids of all ages need connection. You’ve probably felt that even in this calamity, we’ve been given a golden opportunity to renew connection with our kids and each other. We may not be able to stand face to face, but we still have technology to connect. Encourage your kids to stay connected with their friends, and assure them that not seeing their friends doesn’t mean that they go away.
We’re all in the same boat. Our kids will be tempted to believe that they’re missing out. Challenge this belief with a more realistic view of what everyone is doing under quarantine. Then, talk with your kids about what you can do together. This is the chance to learn or create something new; to pick up a new skill, or for your kid to move the needle on something in their life that there hasn’t been time for until now. We have nothing but time now; how can they use it well?
4. Live in the Moment
Nothing throws another log on the anxiety bonfire like trying to predict the future. No one knows how this is going to play out, but at some point it will end. Focusing on the present moment allows you and your kids to recognize what is in front of you: a home, food, comfort, health, and each other. Right now, in this moment, you’re safe. You have resources, and you have a community that is willing to come together to help one another. The most incredible beauty can come from ashes, and living in the moment will help teach your kids to see the good that is rising from all of this, and to find some meaning in it. This is where resiliency comes from: the ability to rise from hard circumstances and hold on to hope that better days are ahead. Being thankful for what is good about the present invites God’s peace into your home, by which He guards our hearts and minds from fear (Philippians 4:6-7). It is essential to help our kids remain hopeful for the future by being thankful for today.
I can’t sugar-coat what’s going on. Some people are losing their jobs, and some people are losing their lives. This is real, but it’s not the end of the story. Our kids need to believe that we can and will come back from this, and that it’s through family and community that it will happen. God allows trial as a means to find or renew our relationship with Him. Perhaps this can be the season that our kids develop a personal relationship with the One who holds us in His hands, and in so doing, see how even in our trials we are redeemed.
You’re not in this alone. Crossroads counselors are available to help you or your child cope with these present anxieties. Give us a call at 225-341-4147 to talk with Cheryl or another counselor on our team.