Written by Hermione Bigland Warman
“Our children need the space to delve into their natural inclinations and practice expressing what they find there. Our task is to respond with delight, conveying through our eyes and our smile that they are most adored when they are in the act of being.”
Shefali Tsabury The Conscious Parent
With routines disrupted and families thrown into close quarters it is little wonder that there are moments when cabin fever really kicks in and your children have no qualms in letting you know. Even now curfew has been lifted, schools are not going back anytime soon; we are entering the summer holidays already feeling that we have spent a huge amount of time with our kids!!! To be honest this has been the biggest shock to me, having my children around me 24/7 and not only having to be their Mummy but also being a teacher to them, finding the balance is tricky. Our children have their own needs and just like us they have emotional and physical struggles. I think it is very important for us to acknowledge that children of all ages will experience one form of anxiety or another within in this time. Being away from their routine, friends, school and having new “teachers” is very confusing for them. Ultimately though we want our children to be confident, resilient and independent in life, so in turn we have to be honest and conscious when parenting our children. There are going to be car crash moments when you feel like you are the worst parent ever and then in a few hours you will be crowning yourself in glory for rocking as a parent. It is good for our children to see all sides and to understand that bad moments are a part of life- it is just how we handle them.
SUPPORTING THEIR EMOTIONAL NEEDS
The naming of emotions is an important step in reassuring children that whatever they are feeling is completely natural. Kids have every reason to feel anxious in this current global craziness. My son, Oscar refused to go out, he was fearful of going to the park, there was a full on melt down. I couldn’t understand why, but after talking with him I realised I had never taken the time to explain that curfew had been lifted and it was ok to go out. Of course, we can’t deny how our children feel but we can steer them in a way to control how they deal with their emotions, so that anxiety and fear don’t prevent them from living their best lives.
One really good way to get a handle of our kids is to check in with them a few times a day about how they are doing. I find family meals the best way; I often start with “gosh I really struggled today with teaching maths, that was tricky for me, what was tricky in your day?” Or “when did you laugh today… followed by when did you feel sad.” If you can balance both moments in the day it will help your kids balance their emotions and understand both feeling are ok.
Recently my sisters and I (I have 3) were chatting and I learnt that my kids are not the only ones having emotional outbursts; all 6 of my nieces and nephews have had huge blowouts at this time. It is normal and we need to embrace them as moments where we can all reflect. One friend advised me if it has got very heated, remind your child you love them, they are welcome to talk about it, and what they are feeling is very common and understandable, but such an outburst with no explanation or dialog is not acceptable. You are then not making the child feel alienated but encouraging them to find a new pathway to express their emotion.
Practice preventative measures like establishing firm and clear rules with your kids, try and give them calm and clear instructions, be consistent and back instructions with logical consequences. This can prevent a lot of challenging behavior before it even begins.
Anger is a big emotion for all of us at the moment, and it is worse for a child having these eruptions yet not knowing the tools to escape the fury. We have learnt about the “guard dog” (the amygdala, ie fight or flight activator) and the “Wise Owl” (the front of our brain PFC, more calming, reasoning and thinking). We talk about which part of the brain is in play and is it beneficial in that moment? I had my doubts but particularly to my elder child this concept has been very helpful, click here to find out more
In our household we love to put on music to dance the anger out, also drawing pictures to express their emotions. I also receive notes now from my 7 year old telling me he is about to “flip his lid!!!” I have noticed that if I react angrily to their angry it does not help anyone. I try to breathe, take a step back and see it from their perspective, I’m no saint this does not always work.
Now I HATE routine but I realise most kids thrive off it. They do need structure in their day and they absolutely need to know when they have things to look forward to. You don’t need to be strict on this but if they have an understanding of the way the day runs it makes family life much easier especially if you are working too.
Try telling kids at breakfast your plan for the day, or if you have older kids draw up a schedule so they know what to expect. Identify a set time you will help them with projects and other times when they need to work by themselves. This helps them feel more secure, in control and can increase the chances of a more harmonious day.
Make sure they get dressed and make bed, and have breakfast at a reasonable time, so that when they go back to school (please God soon!) not too much of a shock. Giving your child control on their choices as much a possible is another useful tool when planning the day. The more in control they feel, the more likely they are to cooperate when they are asked to do something.
ROPE IN FRIENDS AND FAMILY WHO ARE ISOLATED WITH LITTLE TO DO.
They can read a book to them on Zoom, help test their spelling, play a game. My Mother- in- Law has been amazing and has started reading to the children and helping them learn some new words. My father sings lullabies to my little girl each night. To be honest it is lovely for me too, knowing they are helping in the development of my children and their memories, even though I’m so far away from my loved ones, this is an aspect I will never drop I have realized how valuable it is. It is only for 15 mins, but it is an incredible thing for the parent, child and kind person doing the act.
We all want to reduce screen time but need to keep the children engaged we have found the good old board game has really come back into play in our household. Who’s up for a game of Guess Who, Matching Pairs, Monopoly, Pictionary, Charades, Snakes and Ladders, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Twister, Cludeo… to name a few. You can spend a good few hours, bonding as a family, stimulating your brain cells and rekindling happy memories of your childhood. These games also teach your child how to play honorably , about winning and losing and how to be a team player. My son was a terrible looser when we first started playing these games, he can now see it is good for his younger sister (to occasionally!!) win.
This is a great skill for any child to learn, and a way to grab some precious time for yourself. It is said that independent play encourages time management, and organizational skills, emotional and physical awareness. I often will play with my kids intensely, no phone etc for 20 minutes and then get them to have independent play after that, often their game we had played continues happily without me. If you have outdoor space, give them water, slime, sand, paint etc to play with, yes I know the mess but actually it gives you more time and they find it very relaxing.
This is s a great time to give your children extra responsibility, which if done in the right way kids thrive off. It is important for children to understand they have to take responsibly in life. In our household they wake up every morning and have to make their beds, open curtains and get dressed, clearer the table after mealtimes, tidy up etc. We ask them what they would like to eat for meals and get them to help, how would they like their day to be? I have started to explain that their days are 50% good and 50% bad, they have to balance their days. If they want the Nutella sandwich then they have to their schooling, if they want to go outside then they need to tidy up before they go. I don’t want to tempt fate but it is working most of the time! My daughter turned to me the other day and said “look you have bad days and so do I, its ok!” Yes I love it, taking responsibility for her emotions, bring it on, that’s what we all want.
Actually this has been a brilliant opportunity to get our children to be responsible for themselves and learn how to load a dishwasher, hang out their washing, make their beds, learn to cook. My goodness if my children come out with some table manners I will be delighted… arghhhhh I don’t know it might be too much to ask. There are lots of other useful skills that our kids can learn now we are forced to be a little more present with them! Riding a bike, tying shoe laces, knife skills in the kitchen, roller blading, how to type, how to make breakfast for themselves (seriously a winner if you love a lie in!) even older kids, once a week they cook for you guys, they help write the shopping list of things they need. I have been mollycoddling my children far too much and instead I need to add feathers to their wings so that they can fly. Thank you lockdown for making me understand this.
All in all this time is an amazing opportunity to check in on our parenting and realize this is our chance to show our children a new path of independence, balance and love. I would love to know how you have got to understand your children a little better in this time and if any of these tips have helped you. Remember we are a community and T&T always has your back.