Previous Week's Tools
- Finding Meaning in the Mundane (5/8)
- Grief is a Loaded Word (5/1)
- Strengthening Family Bonds (4/24)
- VET and TIE: How Shelter-in-Place May Be Affecting Emotions (4/10)
- FOG (4/3)
- At Home EQ Corner (3/27)
- CALM (3/20)
As the month of March rolled into April, and May slips into June, the days while sheltering in place seem to blend seamlessly. One Zoom meeting feels like the last. Dinner bears close resemblance to lunch and yesterday’s dinner. Meals can only vary so much when ingredients are in short supply. And the daily walks around the neighborhood streets are familiar and comforting, but not remarkable. How then do we find meaning in these coronavirus days, and perchance, make some memories of our family time together?
This week, we want to give you five reflection questions that can add some flavor into your days and help to make the mundane meaningful. The power of questions is that they focus your energy on what is important. Do not try to squeeze all of these into one day. Instead, focus on one question a day, in order to set an intention each day.
Question 1: Have I tried my best to show love to those who I care about?
When we are with our family 24 hours each day, 7 days a week, it is easy to assume that we need not express our love every day, but giving and receiving frequent expressions of love sure does feel good and goes a long way for healthy and lasting relationships. Gary Chapman, author of the Five Languages of Love series, posits that everyone has an individual preference on how to give and receive love:
- Words of affirmation
- Acts of service
- Quality time
- Gift giving
- Physical touch.
Learn your loved ones’ languages of love, and you will have unlocked the secret to laying the foundation for enriching relationships.
At school, we talk about the Five Languages of Friendship to facilitate active apologies between friends involved in a conflict. You may use the same concept to facilitate sibling conflicts.
Question 2: Have I done something that helps me to be resilient?
Whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual, here are some ways to stay fit.
Question 3: Have I taught my kids something that will enable them to be more independent?
There is a lot of pressure on parents to support their kids’ distance learning so they don’t lose academic grounds. However, if we consider Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, it reminds us that in times like these, health, safety and relationships are the most important aspects of our children’s well-being.
If these basic needs are taken care of, and we want to move up Maslov’s hierarchy to self-actualization, then find creative ways for your child to contribute to your household community. Chores are a great way to help build a child’s self-esteem, autonomy and independence while teaching them about being a contributing member of the family. In her book, Cleaning House, Kay Wyma recounts a year-long campaign to introduce her five kids to basic life skills and the ways meaningful work can increase self-confidence and concern for others.
Question 4: Have I felt and expressed gratitude today?
Keep a gratitude journal. It can change your life. The research on gratitude is convincing:
- Gratitude positively affects well-being and spirituality (p. 263)
- Gratitude stimulates moral behavior and builds social bonds (p. 214).
- Grateful thinking of positive life experiences allows people to get the greatest satisfaction and enjoyment from their current circumstances (p. 75)
Question 5: When I look back 20 years from now, what would I like to remember?
Visualize yourself 20 years from now and jot down a few phrases that would help you define this era. What would you like your kids to remember about their days during coronavirus time? You might do a time capsule where each member of the family can write a note to their future selves describing these experiences and intentions.
On March 13, when Bay Area residents received the directive to shelter in place, I remember feeling the bottom of my stomach drop. I felt sad that our situation had come to this, relieved that we can finally do something about it (ironically by doing nothing), excited that I can have a large chunk of uninterrupted time with my family, anxious about how all of us would deal with such restrictions and changes to our daily routines. As the weeks progressed, I kept hearing references to grief in the news about the coronavirus, and I continue to think it doesn’t apply to me because no one I know has died. I can’t be grieving, can I?
Most of us associate grieving with the death of someone we know, love and/or care about, but grieving is a lot broader than this. Grief, as defined by experts, is the acute pain that accompanies loss. They do not limit grief to the loss of people. In this time of coronavirus, we can grieve the loss of our safety, our freedom, a job, a home, lost lives, individually and collectively, or just “normal life” as we know it.
But then comes the comparative suffering. I hear from many of these sentiments in our community: How can I be grieving when I have a job while others have lost theirs? How can I grieve my child’s loss of physical connection when others are dying and may never see their loved ones again? How can I feel so unfocused and unproductive when health care workers are risking their lives on the front lines every day?
Kids may grieve the loss of being at school, seeing their teachers and friends daily, their birthday party being cancelled, or an annual school expedition eliminated. These losses may appear trivial in the larger context of suffering in the world, but they may be the biggest losses your kids have ever experienced, so these losses feel like a big deal to them. According to grief expert, David Kessler, “The biggest loss is always YOUR loss.” When we compare our suffering with the suffering of others, we deny ourselves these feelings of disappointment, restlessness, sadness, anger, despair, depression, grief, etc. Comparative suffering doesn’t support any of us. What we need to do, instead, is to acknowledge and support all these feelings that we and our kids may be experiencing. Kids and adults can feel isolation and chronic loneliness when we push these feelings aside or downplay them as less important.
Here are some tips on dealing with all of these feelings:
Know the Signs of Grief
If you are wondering whether you are grieving or not, here are some signs to look for, According to Elisabeth Kluber-Ross and David Kessler, authors of the book, On Death and Dying, there are five stages of grief that many of us are familiar with: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. After Kluber-Ross’ death, David Kessler discovered a sixth stage of grief: Finding Meaning. However, in the first page of their book, Kluber-Ross and Kessler emphasized that these stages are descriptive, rather than prescriptive. They are organic rather than linear. Grieving is an organic process that looks distinct in different people. While some people go through all the stages, others may not, and in a different order, for varying lengths of time. We now understand that grief is to be highly individualized and unpredictable.
In this step, you may try to understand which 5 stages of grieving you are in. You may not have a lot of control over it, but knowing that there is a loose structure to this process helps to normalize the internal chaos you may be feeling. The steps are not linear so don’t expect that if you’ve been through one stage, you will not return to it. Grieving is messy, as is life and death. Be patient with yourself.
Find an Outlet
Find some outlet for the feelings, by writing in a journal, drawing, talking to a family member or a friend, or seeking professional help. In this time of coronavirus, it may be tricky to find someone right away who can be there to hold space for us, but do not despair. There is someone else out there in this shared storm that is either sitting in your same boat, or at least can take the time to understand how you are struggling in your own individual boat (even if it is different from theirs.
Learn to Regulate your Emotions
Even though we might not rush the process of the stages of grief, we can still help ourselves by learning to modulate the intensity of these emotions. The first step towards regulation is to have some routine for self care. Emotions get the better of us when we are tired, hungry, stressed, and isolated. Here are some baseline habits with enormous impact if practiced regularly:
- Walk outside every day for at least 30 minutes.
- Sleep 7-8 hours per night. If you miss this target, try to nap or meditate to catch up.
- Do at least two 60 minutes cardio activities each week.
- Meditate for 1 minute each day and work up to 10 minutes each day.
- Drink lots of water.
For our kids, once we validate their emotions, help them understand it, express it, and label it, we will have a better chance of helping them understand these issues in the larger context. Here is a worksheet, called How Big Is My Problem?, which we use with students to help put problems into perspective.
Ask For Help
If all of the above feels too much to handle on your own, please remember that you can always reach out to our SEL team to lend an ear or search for additional resources. Here are some recommendations for online professional help to get you started:
A couple of months ago, the idea of having our family quarantined at home for one week felt inconceivable. But five weeks into this, we are starting to realize that the Shelter-In-Place directive is going to demand more resilience from us than originally thought. In fact, it puts tremendous pressure on our relationships, with our partners, kids, and family and friends afar. If we thought sibling conflicts were tough when life was normal, then sibling conflict now may feel even more amplified and insurmountable.
How can we leverage EQ to help build resilience in all of our relationships? This week, we highlight some ways you can strengthen the bonds with the people you love.
It is time where we feel increased stress and changes that are beyond our control that we need to connect with our feelings and make room for conversations. As a family, we can do this on a daily basis with EQ Check-ins and conversations at the breakfast or dinner table.
Check in Methods
Check-in methods can change each day or week. Every member of the family can lead the check-in. You might decide on a rotation schedule for this. Perhaps, keep a box of EQ Check-in ideas that you can draw from each day. Make this a rotating job within your family. Some ideas include:
- If you were a body of water, would you be a creek, river, lake or ocean? Why?
- If you were part of a tree, which part would you be? Why?
- What song would describe your feelings today? Why?
Share Your Highs and Lows
Share high/low lights at the dinner table. It’s important for kids to share their joys AND concerns with you - for them to know that life is not all ups, but has plenty of downs, and that all the emotions that come with the ups and downs are okay. In fact, they are valuable if we know how to harness their energies. Sometimes, the low lights may be more insightful than the high ones. When your child shares a low point of their day, it is important to stay constructive and remember to utilize the VEET Tool.
Set aside 1-1 time each day per child
Engage in doing something together with your child, not just the time you spend supporting them through distance learning. Focus on being present with your child and the activity. They will start to talk to you about their day without any direct questions from you. It may take some consistent days like this before they start to volunteer. Be patient and have an open ear and heart.
Be honest about why you want to know something. It is natural that we want to hear about our kids’ days, especially with our Middle Schoolers who are tech savvy and engaging in Distance Learning on their own. We may feel somewhat disconnected from their experience right now. Asking for details about their day gives us a sense that we belong and have significance in their lives. However, if we come across as prying, they will not be very forthcoming.
Remember that your goal is to connect, not to lecture, discipline, or correct behavior. There is a time and place for that, but now is not the time. Quality time with your child should not have a hidden agenda.
Also, kids may not want to share when you want them to. The hardest part is waiting for when they are ready, not when you want them to share.
As a saying in Zen philosophy reminds us, sometimes to find the answer, “ We don’t find the answers, we lose the questions.” Just be present; it’s powerful.
DiSC Conflict Resolution
Utilize the DiSC conflict resolution protocol:
When our kids experience sibling conflicts, it may trigger certain emotions in us by bringing back memories of past experiences with our own siblings, and there is a strong urge to make it stop as soon as possible. When it comes to sibling rivalry, it is important to remember that two opposing forces are usually at play.
Sibling rivalry is a constant interplay of their differences and similarities. It is important for each child to understand that their differences help to define them as unique and separate beings and their similarities and shared experiences make them the best companions for each other. Both forces can exist at the same time. Helping them navigate these forces is an essential part of parenting. When kids are in conflict, keep these principles in mind with a DiSC approach. DiSC stands for Differences interacting with Similarities equals Creative Problem-Solving.
Acknowledging Differences and Encouraging Similarities
Differences: Acknowledge their different perspectives and emotions:
- Validate each child’s emotions in the conflict as you observe them:
- “Andrew, I see that you are bothered by your brother getting into your things.”
- “Charles, I notice that you are hurt because Andrew is not letting you play.”
- Invite each child to share their side of the story, giving each equal time: “Tell me how you feel about this.” Have the child who is hurt go first by saying, “Charles, you have 2 minutes to tell me everything you want to share about the incident. Then, Andrew, you will have 2 minutes after Charles goes, ok?”
- Then have each child repeat back to his brother what he heard and wait for confirmation that their understanding was correct. Here they are exercising their empathy for one another.
Similarities: Encourage them to collaborate on their similar goals
- With both kids, ask “What might be an option/EQ tool that you might use here?” Suggest that they brainstorm at 5-10 ideas together and bring it to you. You’re helping them to develop their agency and adaptability by expressing confidence in their ability to work together on a solution
- Encourage further creative problem-solving and collaboration when they come to you: “What else would help? What would you like to try? What is your common goal in this situation?”
- Lastly, remind them to follow through and reflect after they’ve picked a couple of options to try: “Can we check in later to see how that works out for you? When would you like to do that?’
Foster Closeness at a Distance
Help siblings take a healthy break from each other by fostering close connections with other family members and friends. This can be done even at a distance. Research suggests that closeness in relationships are determined primarily by two factors: 1) frequent, deep communication and 2) finding common ground. When kids are young, in elementary school, you might need to be involved in facilitating their social interactions. You might set up a regular Zoom call with a planned activity where two to four kids can:
- Work on their own activity together
- Do different activities and share with one another
For older Middle School kids:
- Each child does their own activity while chatting with each other
- Do collaborative, imaginary games together
- Leave room for their own creativity
As you have seen in this article, healthy relationships start with a healthy relationship with self, a home environment that supports the expressions of emotions, and some tools to help with conflict resolution. We hope that you have found these tips and tools helpful. If you have feedback or topics you would like to hear more about, please email us at SEL@synapseschool.org.
As we shelter-in-place, we may be experiencing a myriad of emotions on a daily basis. We may be apprehensive about keeping our loved ones safe, helping our children to adapt to the new learning environment online, balancing their physical, social and emotional health. We may also be fearful about the perceived loss in academic development and growth, annoyed with the drastic increase in our kids’ time on screens, or disapproving of the pressures imposed on all of our relationships as we spend every waking hour together under one roof.
On the other hand, we may be feeling a sense of peace and appreciation as the hustle and bustle of normal life come to a halt. There is nowhere else to be but at home, with our immediate family. As we start to accept the new normal, we settle into a new routine for the family, new ways of connecting with family and friends via Zoom, the periodic walks around the neighborhood as the new form of exercise, and a run to the grocery store as the only allowable “outing”. From this new normal, we may also see the end of FOMO: there isn’t a party happening somewhere that we weren’t invited to. We find it easier to be present and mindful of the golden opportunity we have to connect with our family and create new memories, or to rekindle past ones. .
Shelter-in-Place and Anxiety
Given the array of emotions while social distancing, there is one emotion in particular that is quite contagious. It is the feeling of anxiety. We’ve seen this with the toilet paper hoarding phenomenon. When news of the pandemic hit, one of the first things that retailers started to see was their shelves being cleared out of the toilet paper. From economists to psychologists, all agree that there isn’t anything intrinsically valuable about toilet paper in a pandemic. The only explanation is that a few people started to hoard toilet paper which spurred on the next people to overbuy as well. And with subsequent people witnessing the empty shelves, it created a cascading effect of toilet paper shortage! Anxiety breeds anxiety.
Anxiety works as a social contagion in our families too. When we are worried or apprehensive about something, our kids feel it and may start to experience it too. Anxiety is your body's natural response to unmanaged stress. It is a feeling of fear or apprehension about what's to come that gets in the way of daily functioning. But if we stay attuned to our emotions, we can keep our anxiety in check and harness an optimal amount of stress for good.
Below you can find some simple steps for dealing with anxiety:
Step 1: What is happening to my body when I feel anxious?
- When my brain senses a potential risk, it increases adrenaline, which increases my heart rate and breathing. I may experience:
- Difficulty breathing
- Dizziness, light-headedness
- Blood rushes and leaves my brain and stomach in order to build strength to the muscles in my arms and legs (because I think I need to run or fight). I may experience:
- Stomach pain, nausea
- Shaking, trembling, tight muscles, numbness
Step 2: What is the message behind this feeling?
Something I care about may be at risk, so I better pause and gather some information before making a decision on how to act.
Step 3: How can I cope with anxiety and keep it in check?
- Model a healthy way of dealing with my own anxiety
- I can talk to other adults to process my anxiety.
- Then I can talk to my child about their feelings by using the VET method:
Validate: Acknowledge the emotion that I am feeling by labeling it, like “worried”, “scared”, “concerned”, “hesitant”, etc, which will decrease the intensity of that feeling. I should give myself time and space to feel these emotions for as long as I need before moving on the Explore stage.
Explore: Brainstorm ways to process these emotions. Can I talk about it? Draw a picture? Listen to some music? Go for a run?
Transform: I can use my feelings to change my frame of mind and give myself something else to move toward.
- Rather than trying to convince myself to calm down, I may channel the increased heart rate to focus my energy toward excitement for something else.
- “I am excited to spend this time with my family.”
Step 4: How can I reassure my child to mitigate their anxiety?
- After I’ve gone through steps 1- 3 with myself, I will do the same with my child.
- I will resist the temptation to provide my child with certainty to make them feel safe.
- Many things are uncertain right now, and it’s okay to say that and use the TIE framework instead:
- “This is a Temporary situation. We are sheltering-in-place so that we can help slow the spread of the Coronavirus. There are many people working hard to understand the situation and find a cure for COVID-19.”
- “It is an Isolated event. There are still so many things that are going well for our family. We are healthy, we are together, we have a nice home, and lots of food.”
- “With Efforts, we can stay healthy and safe; and when we are healthy, we can help slow down the spread of the virus and protect vulnerable people from getting sick.”.
Watch Out: Anxiety-Provoking Thinking Patterns
Here are some thinking errors that may emerge, which I can challenge with EQ Competencies and other Coping Strategies listed above:
- Magnifying and Catastrophizing: Blowing something out of proportion to expect disaster to strike, because the worst possibilities will happen. Remember the T in TIE.
- All or Nothing and Overgeneralizing: Using words like “always” or “never” while overlooking the middle ground gray area. Remember the I in TIE.
- Filtering and Selective Attention: Only focusing on negative aspects or aspects that align with your own beliefs. Remember the E in TIE.
Tools to Regulate Emotions
This week in the EQ Corner, we’d like to zero in on the tools that help us to regulate our emotions. Emotional regulation can be defined as the process by which we turn down or turn up the intensity of our feelings by aligning what we are feeling with how we’d like to feel. Emotions can be de-escalated so we can calm down the amygdala to re-engage our prefrontal context to make better decisions. An example might be when we have stage fright, our heart rate starts to speed up and we get into a self-fulfilling prophecy of how we’re messing up our presentation. But if we are able to calm the amygdala, we can make a better judgement about what the audience wants to hear and communicate more effectively.
On the other hand, sometimes it may be important to intensify an emotion so that it motivates us to act. For example, we might feel empathy; but unless we intensify these emotions, we might not be propelled to act in a compassionate way. A basic principle in emotional intelligence is that emotions are neither positive nor negative. Emotions are neutral and they all carry messages from ourselves to ourselves. Some emotions contract our energy, such as anger, sadness, fear, etc. while other emotions expand our energy, such as joy, love, empathy, etc.. Generally we would want to minimize the emotions that contract us and maximize the emotions that expand us. The ability to regulate our emotions is tied to our understanding of what is socially acceptable and adapting actions to what we want to achieve in a given situation. This is the intersection of the emotional and the social.
The first step toward being skilled at emotional regulation is to understand our own feelings and help our kids to understand theirs. This understanding phase requires the ability to recognize the emotions as we experience them in our bodies and in our behavior. This includes having emotional literacy to label these emotions, to quantify the intensity thereof, and to recognize patterns that emerge over time. To assist our kids with the awareness phase, there are several emotional literacy tools that we outlined in last week’s article on the At Home EQ Corner.
What is "FOG"?
The regulation phase comes when we have self-awareness, and we also have an idea of where we want to get to. For younger children, they will need our help with setting clear expectations for behavior for different contexts. For instance, you may be a bit more goofy at home than you would in a classroom setting when the teacher is delivering a lesson. They also need to understand that what is expected at fourteen is very different from when they were seven. As with all skills in emotional intelligence, it’s a muscle that gets stronger with practice.
Here is a process that we teach the students so that they can start flexing this muscle at a young age: Ask FOG questions. In practice, we recommend asking the Goals question before exploring Options. This engenders ideas that are more conducive to achieving your given goals.
F: What am I Feeling?
Use emotion words to describe what you are feeling. Remember that every emotion has a purpose and a basic message. Identify where you have these feelings in your body. How intense are these feelings and do they match up with the size of the problem?
A note on the size of the problem: Sometimes emotional outbursts from a seemingly inconsequential incident may seem overblown to a parent who may not be attuned to the underlying root of the problem. It’s important to take the time to go beyond the surface level of the iceberg. As mentioned earlier, identifying the problem will take longer than finding a solution.
G: What are my Goals?
The next step would be to ask what your end goal is with these feelings. Are you trying to de-escalate or intensify the feeling? How would that be helpful in this situation? An additional question for parents to consider might be, what are the expected norms in this social context?
O: What are my Options?
The third step is to look at all possible options before you select a solution. Use this “How Big Is My Problem?” worksheet to figure out the size of your problem and the level of response that would be appropriate. Keep in mind, though, that big feelings don’t necessarily require a big reaction. Feelings are not the same as actions. There is a difference between reacting and responding in an intentional way. The way to move from reaction to intentional response is to take a pause, the Six Seconds Pause.
We hope you try out these tools and let us know your feedback! Thanks for reading!
What is an EQ Corner?
This week we’d like to help you build your At Home EQ Corner, a place where there is a visual reminder that all emotions have value. Every home deserves a nice, quiet, safe corner where each family member can retreat to from time to time. In this calm space, everyone in the family can feel safe to access all emotions and practice SEL-based strategies to navigate feelings so that when they return to their activities, they can feel rejuvenated, motivated, and confident.
It could be a place to go when you individually need to calm down for a few minutes or a place to meet and help each other work through some big emotions. Students can gather the EQ tools they have learned from Self Science class and collect them here for easy access. The EQ Corner can start out very simply and grow with time.
We will guide you through the weeks to build it out with more tools. Every EQ Corner is going to look different because it’s personalized to your family, so have fun setting it up together. Here are some essential elements that you might like to start with:
- Emotions Chart (eMotion Moon Faces, Plutchik model, etc.)
- Thermometer to gauge the intensity of your feelings
- Calming Tools (EQ Friend, Stuffed Animals, Photos, etc.)
- Steps for Conflict Resolution
- Books (See titles recommended by our SEL Team)
- Music (Equipment, Inspirational lyrics, etc.)
- Comfortable Furnishings (Pillows, Blankets, etc.)
To get you started here are four easy steps:
First, you will want to have some way to check in with your feelings, either with some visual representation of faces or emotional words:
Lower School: Print a copy of eMotion Moon Faces. Cut out the individual moon faces and have a stash ready for each family member to pick one to post on the board each day. LI and LII students may teach their families how to create some Feeling Fish.
Middle School: Print out a copy of the Plutchik Model of Emotions and post it on a wall in your EQ Corner so that each family member can refer to it when checking in. Here is a resource page for learning more about how to use the model.
Next, set up a blank calendar, poster, cork, or magnet board and allow room for each family member’s emotion words or images to be recorded each day. You may ask each family member to do this check-in first thing in the morning or at any point throughout the day.
At dinner time, look at the emotions on the calendar and reflect on why you chose that emotion word or image. This is time to elaborate and reflect on the entirety of the day.
Then at the end of the week, you might reflect on the range of emotions that the family felt as a whole and brainstorm different words to express the same emotions.
How Adults Can Use the EQ Corner
Although the EQ Corner may feel like it's a place for kids, the tools can work for grown-ups too! In order for the whole family to make the best of the EQ Corner, you will have to set some rituals and routine around it. You will have to guide your child to use it by modelling the behavior, and sometimes, be there to help them use the tools to navigate their emotions. The tools are not meant to be a replacement for a parent’s or caregiver’s love and attention. We believe families need to talk about emotions as a normal part of daily conversations.
It may be a good idea to have an “emotion emergency drill” ahead of time around how to use the EQ Corner when everyone is calm. For example, in the "emotion emergency drill”, parents can say, "When mommy is upset, and if I don't notice that I am a little upset, then you can signal me like this. I will go to the EQ Corner, and I will sit down and take a deep breath and use my EQ tools. You can coach me how I can do it. Now it's your turn," etc. Then have your child do the same by giving you their signal for when they are upset, frustrated, sad, etc. You can then agree on how much time they need in the corner until you come and talk to them.
Great Books to Add to Your EQ Corner
Lower School Book Suggestions
Middle School Book Suggestions
This companion book features conversations between Mr. Browne and Auggie, Julian, Summer, Jack Will, and others, giving readers a special peek at their lives after Wonder ends. Mr. Browne's essays and correspondence are rounded out by a precept for each day of the year—drawn from popular songs to children’s books to inscriptions on Egyptian tombstones to fortune cookies. His selections celebrate the goodness of human beings, the strength of people’s hearts, and the power of people’s wills.
To others, 12-year-old Molly seems perfect. In order to keep this outward appearance of perfection, she must always have her pencils sharpened just right, have her glass figurines lined up just so, and constantly count by fours in her head. When her mother temporarily moves out to pursue a job far away, Molly’s habits become more extreme and she feels like her life is falling apart. Unfortunately, she’s afraid to get help from anyone — even her family and closest friends.
Show Us Your At Home EQ Corner!
CONNECT with feelings:
Check-in with yourself: As with preparing for an emergency on an airplane, you must put on your mask first before attempting to put on your child’s. Same is true with feelings. Breathe some deep breaths. Know that you are not alone, many people are feeling the same things you are.
Feel your feelings: It is okay to feel all these emotions, whether it’s worry, anxiety, fear, exhaustion, loneliness, etc. All emotions have value. The idea is not to push them aside but to make space for them and understand them. Whatever you do, refrain from telling your kids “not to worry” or “don’t be anxious”. Saying so may lead to these possible side effects:
- Kids feel invalidated
- Kids may feel ashamed
- Anxiety may manifest into other unhealthy behaviors
- A small worry may fester into something bigger
Allow your child to feel their feelings: We want to validate their emotions and help them find ways to express these feelings in a healthy way. Healthy ways for children to process emotions include, but are not limited to:
- Talk with someone they trust
- Journaling, with words or drawing
- Creative outlets such as music, arts & crafts
- Being physically active
- Finding stillness through meditation
Model the behavior you’d like to see:
- Be aware of when your children are around and how you are talking about the situation. Are you sharing facts or perpetuating myths? Is your language optimistic or pessimistic?
- Keep in mind that you wouldn’t want to process YOUR anxiety in front of your child. Find a friend or another trusted adult to do this with. It’s too much a burden for your kids, even if they are older.
- Focus on the joys of being together as a family and that you have the opportunity to do the things you normally would not.
ASK what they already know
Always start with assessing what they know of the situation already. Listen first and then fill in the gaps as appropriate. No more, no less.
- Ask questions to open the conversation: What do you know? What do you want to know?
- Ask questions as they relate to their current experience: Do you know why we are staying home and buying so much food? Do you know what ‘Shelter-in-place’ means? For ways to answer Coronavirus specific questions, see advice from the National Association of School Psychologists.
- Ask questions to explore feelings: What do you think about that? What are you feeling? Where are you feeling these emotions in your body? What might be a metaphor to describe the feelings?
- It’s okay for you to say: “I don’t know the answer. Let’s find out together.”
- When your child says something alarming, check what they mean before reacting. If you believe it is a real concern, reach out for help (see SEL contact information on SEL Resources page).
LISTEN more, talk less
When children are worried or anxious, listening to their concerns goes a long way in helping them process those emotions.
- Practice “Whole Body Listening” so that you are not only listening with your ears, but also with your eyes and a sixth sense. What is being said? What is not being said? What is their body language telling you?
- When your child does not express their feelings or thoughts in words, observe their play and/or other modes of expression, like artwork, as the gateway.
- Try to keep your responses simple and inviting, such as: “I see…”, “I hear you..”, “What else are you feeling?”, “Is there more?”
- Sometimes it’s best to be completely quiet. Silence has a way of inviting someone to fill in the blank. Just sit and embrace for a while.
- Do a daily EQ check-in: It gives children a way to check-in with themselves and with you. You can change this up to keep things fresh and interesting (see section on Mindfulness).
Meet them where they are
Every person will process differently. Especially with children, be attuned to how much information is necessary to share. Perhaps, your child just enjoys being at home with you and doesn't really need to know about the Coronavirus and all the updates regarding it. For an older child, perhaps more information would help ease her anxiety.
- Evaluate where you are: Are you ready to have the conversation with your children alone or do you need support? Do you need to write some key points down? What would you like to communicate?
- When sharing information, check your sources to make sure they are reliable.
- Keep your explanation brief and simple, and attend to your child’s reactions and feelings (see section on Development Stages).
- Limit your child’s media exposure according to your child’s age and temperament.
- Monitor when and how much they consume media, whether it’s TV or via the internet
- Offer reassurance by communicating safety and caring; “We are prepared,” “I am here,” “I love you.”
- Focus on the helpers; “Many people are working together to help each other.”
- Communicate your plans, not promises; “We are planning to …, and we will be flexible.”