Validate your child's feelings now more than ever
March 17, 2020
As a working professional and parent returning from a trip abroad, it is abundantly clear that the social landscape of the country I left a week ago, looks markedly different from the one I arrived home to 24 hours ago. Like countless other Canadians I am currently self-quarantined and trying to manage my work and family obligations, especially now that my two sons have been ordered to remain home from their schools as well.
Parents are currently navigating uncharted terrain as we figure out how to keep our children physically safe, emotionally secure and socially engaged at a time when the information we are receiving from our leaders and medical professionals is ever-changing. Here are some of my thoughts as a mental health practitioner working with many children and youth who were already experiencing anxiety or depression, before the rapid onset of COVID-19.
Children emulate emotions
Keeping ourselves as calm as possible is imperative right now. From the time we are infants we use the affective displays of the adults around us to regulate our behaviours towards people and places in a process known as social referencing. Children tend to emulate the words and actions used by those around them, and parents are their first teachers in both overt and covert ways. We need to model patience, compassion, and acceptable ways to express frustration and uncertainty, with respect to the interruptions we are all currently experiencing in our daily lives.
Our favourite items at the grocery store won’t be as readily available and the lineups are sometimes rather long right now, holidays may need to be cancelled, and money might be tighter than usual for many families. Have these conversations about certain realities with your kids, honestly and openly (bearing in mind their developmental stage) so they can better understand that these are temporary measures that will help restore our global communities.
Necessity mother of invention
For the time being we have been asked to practise social distancing which doesn’t necessarily mean we are destined to lose our sense of connection to others, especially with access to technology that allows us to Face Time or Skype with family members and friends, residing in other households. Kids are bound to experience boredom and restlessness if they are no longer able to play team sports, engage in hobbies or other extra-curricular activities that allow them to express their creativity, physicality, or community spirit. Necessity is the mother of all invention, and many establishments such as museums, churches, and other amenities can be visited or experienced virtually, online.
Now is the time to Google inexpensive and fun ideas for keeping them educated and entertained, simple arts and crafts, movement activities, getting them to help out more with chores around the house, and basic meal preparation. Baked goods or other items they have helped prepare can then be brought to individuals who are housebound; a great opportunity to develop your child’s sense of self-efficacy and sense of caring for others.
For Parents of Teens…
If you are the parent of an older teenager, validate any feelings of loss and apprehension they may have about the future. My middle son was hoping to be school valedictorian this year, and there will likely be no ceremonies of any kind to commemorate high school and university graduation for millions of students worldwide. He feels somewhat lost right now, after prioritizing academics and looking forward to post-secondary studies in the fall. Your young adult may also be experiencing difficulties landing their first job or holding onto it, given the downturn in the economy.
Parents Should Take Care, too
Finally, seek out your own supports as a parent right now so your cup doesn’t empty out too quickly. Are you able to work from home if child care is no longer available? Who can you lean on or offer support to until the current situation progresses? Are you up to speed on new initiatives being announced daily, to help Canadian families and businesses weather COVID-19? We have much more control over our thoughts and moods than we sometimes realize, and we have been forced right now to slow things down and prioritize what is really important. In many respects this is a test; of our resourcefulness, our resiliency and our ability to perform under pressure. I also see it as a gift, a recalibration of sorts, and opportunity to really connect with those in our lives we sometimes take for granted when we are bogged down in the minutia of daily life.
Help is available
In the meantime, there are still many mental health supports in our city, although you may have to access them by call, text, chat or email for the time being. Although we have temporarily suspended home visitations and community presentations, the Community Resource Team is still operational and can be reached by calling or leaving a voicemail at 403-299-9699, by texting 587-315-5000, or live chat by clicking here. You can also email our clinical team at Eastside Family Centre at EFC.eCounselling@woodshomes.ca until face-to face sessions counselling sessions resume.