Checking In With Your Children Through COVID-19
In these COVID-19 times, what are the signs we should watch to know if our children are stressed or anxious?… And if they are, here is are some great ways to help get your kids talking and feeling more connected.
I had the privilege of being interviewed on Monday night on CBC Vancouver TV News. One of the first questions that CBC News anchorwoman Anita Bathe asked me, (which was prompted by a caller to the CBC TV), was
‘What should we be watching out for as signs our children might be overly stressed or anxious in these COVID-19 times?’
My answer was ‘Just about everything!’
And I elaborated further that we should pay attention to various changes in our children’s behavior, such as:
- If a child is generally outgoing and lately has become more withdrawn.
- If a child is acting out in anger (more than usual).
- If a child is quick to tears (more than usual).
- If a child is overly attentive to you or others in your family (more than usual).
- If you see physical signs such as biting of nails, picking at his/her skin, shaking, sweating, not eating, or over-eating … that is occurring more than usual.
This was such a great question and the very telling fact that this caller asked this question at all tells me we have a very finely attuned family culture here in Canada. The fact that CBC provided a prime time platform to share such ideas about how to we should be handling these very anxious emotional times, makes me proud of all of us for the many ways that we are doing our best to starve this COVID-19 through rigorous social and physical distancing and stay emotionally healthy.
I also feel so privileged and honored to be able to share with you what I think are some great strategies that will help your family to stay healthy and attuned in e-motion (energy in motion).
As I mentioned in my last blog, (http://joanneweiler.com/5-ways-to-stay-positive-through-our-global-health-crisis/), it would be helpful if we recognize the various stages of grief that we may be going through as we process the impacts that this pandemic is having on us. It helps to reflect on Dr. Kubler Ross’s 7 stages of grief. If we are aware that all of us are moving through these various stages of grief, we can start to feel more present to where we are and a sense of control again in our lives. We are not alone. It is normal to feel whatever we are feeling. We are all likely feeling a roller coaster of emotions in all these stages as we grow and adapt towards Acceptance in this pandemic time of change.
No judgment. So what have you been feeling lately? Do you recognize yourself having experienced any of the following stages?
Shock ‘How could this happen out of the blue like this… to us.. to me? We heard of this happening in early January in the City of Wuhan, Central China (over there)… who imagined that by mid-March we would be in physical distancing initiatives throughout Canada in a pandemic?’
Denial ‘This isn’t true… it’s not really happening…It’s a global hoax… I don’t believe we need to isolate… is this a bad dream… can I wake up now??’
Anger ‘I am totally fed up staying at home… this is unfair (seen currently in Pennsylvania & Michigan), or Projected Anger ‘it’s all…their fault’. Or just plain irritability in navigating all the multitude of responsibilities — possibly homeschooling, managing the continuation of your career, keeping up financial viability, and … simply frustrated to have to find toilet paper!!
Bargaining ‘if I don’t have symptoms… what are the chances I’m a carrier…should I need to worry about being contagious?’ … it is being in a state of emotion dissonance as opposed to straight-up bargaining like.. “I wonder if I can trade a great batch of chocolate chip cookies with my neighbor for some toilet paper?!… who took all the toilet paper by the way??’
Depression ‘I feel totally hopeless in this… I have no idea how I’ll ever get back on track… our economy is tanking so what’s the point… I don’t like doing much of anything anymore… I really just want to go back to bed until this is all over’ You may have depressive passing thoughts in this phase… (Note Bene.. if you sense yourself feeling (or someone in your family) in a complete emotional collapse to the point that you feel suicidal or have suicidal ideation, please go to your local Hospital Emergency where you (or your loved one) will be fast-tracked to see the on-call duty psychiatrist.. having thoughts that you don’t want to live, comes from an unhealthy brain..)
Testing ‘Maybe this isn’t so bad…I can’t stay in this dark pit of despair any longer…I’m going to call my friend for a socially distanced hike. I think I’ll try cleaning out a cupboard and see how I feel then. I’ll write out these negative thoughts and write a positive opposite thought and see how that works. You start trying to engage in new ways to feel better. Slowly you may notice a shift to Hey, I’m enjoying slowing down…people are nicer…I think I’m nicer too… I feel closer to my family… I’m having more time with them… I am realizing the ways I want to make long term changes in my life because of this global pause button… and look at my clean cupboards :-).’
Acceptance This is a stage when you feel present and accepting of the way it is right here and now. You see new possibilities. ‘This pandemic has had a powerful impact. I love the way the air smells now. Look at all the birds around these days. We are all going to work together to turn our economy around and possibly create some positive long-term lifestyle changes reducing consumption, working from home, being more conscious of others and our environment. The earth is healing itself. There are so many great ways we are all going to be better together because of COVID-19’ This is a stage of integrating new long term existential meaning coming from the challenge and grief.
Well, my friends, if we as adults are going through these stages, we should not be surprised that our children may also be going through similar grief processes that might look like the following in their child world.
Shock (‘What do you mean I can’t go to my friend’s Joey’s house… for how long?? What??’)
Denial (‘This is ridiculous… ‘)
Anger (‘Just stay away from me… I’m mad… I hate you. But first can you buy me some ice-cream for tonight’s Netflix show?’)
Bargaining (‘Joey’s really healthy… what can it hurt if we get together…I just want to go see him for an hour…please’)
Depression (‘What is the point of doing homeschooling… what is the point of studying at all?’)
Testing (‘I don’t want to fall completely behind at school… maybe it’s kinda fun that our school classes have gone online.. I’ll see how it goes’…’ maybe I could Facetime with Joey today’)
Acceptance (‘I really like the sense that the earth’s ozone layer is healing… and things are going to be better for my generation. I’ve gotten’ used to this homeschool process and I like it’).
For both adults and children, as we move through… and back and forth among them… all these different emotional coping stages, eventually our resiliency starts to grow and we begin to feel integrated again and able to adapt to new ways of functioning and thriving. For elementary and preschool children many of these stages may show up in imaginary play or with attachment teddy bear conversations.
What is helpful in considering where you are as an adult (or your children are) in the process of moving through these stages of grief, is to recognize where you are at. Research tells us that when we are able to normalize our feelings, we can start to regain a perception of control. The more we feel in control again, the less we experience anxiety. The less anxiety, the better we sleep. The better we sleep, the more hopeful we become that if we take one day at a time, we will be able to move towards our ‘new normal’.
A core message that I offered in my interview on CBC TV last night was that we should pay attention to maintaining healthy communications about what we are experiencing as we navigate through this pandemic. Expressed or shared emotion is energy in motion.
Set up times to check in with those in your lives. As a couple, this might happen over coffee in the morning. If you live alone, you might set up a time to call a friend. You might check in with each other about the dreams you had the night before. It is common to experience more dreaming during these anxious times.
In discussions around your dreams, consider all the parts of the dream as part of your unconscious self. If you dream about being chased by a lion, you can share the story from the perspective of the one being chased, but also from the perspective of you as the lion chasing. You could also consider yourself as the savanna itself, or you as the heat… you get the idea.
In this, you will end up having a deep discussion with each other and this can often reveal the e-motions that will keep you as a couple feeling healthy and connected as an intimate team of two. And for those of you who have introverted children you want to encourage to talk about their feelings, dreams can be great inroads to the heart. For the elementary-aged child, drawing out their dreams over breakfast can be a great way to start the process.
In this COVID-19 time it is so important to reflect, communicate and connect through e-motion.
- Understand your e-motion and identify where you are in the stages of grief. No judgment.
- Write your dreams down so you have ways to process feelings you may not be aware of.
- Set up a time of day to communicate with your partner, your family, your extended family, and your friends.
- Try to do something fun as an evening alternative activity to Netflix and save on the ice-cream!
What have been your favorite at-home family fun things to do in the evenings? If you live alone, what has been your go-to activity? We’ve been enjoying an app called Houseparty on which you can play trivia games. We also have an Umbra ping pong game set up on our dining room table. You may want to check out Amazon for various ping pong options to fit your home. We don’t know how long we will need to continue this physical distancing. It may continue through the summer and into our fall. What is possible from a place of acceptance and integration? …joy, hope, and optimism.
Stay home. Love well. Be well.