By Jamie Wiener, Executive Director
Do you remember when we thought “This pandemic is only going to last a couple of weeks and then everything will be back to normal”? There was no doubt in my mind that our fall parenting groups would be meeting in-person, our fabulous fall fundraiser was going to be the in-person event of the year, and everyone would be back in school by now.
Well, you all know how that turned out. As we enter another season after what has been the most unique seven months I’ve experienced in my lifetime, I keep trying to think of new ways to navigate the disappointments that do not seem to be going away for both myself and my children. Can we even trick or treat? And more importantly, how can I take all my children’s candy, if there isn’t any to take? I see so many adults (myself included) struggling with all the uncertainty and tragic realities 2020 has shed light on and I can only imagine how this must feel for our littlest people.
I recently reached out to some of our brilliant parent educators on staff at the Children & Family Resource Center, to get some tips on how to help our children navigate the disappointments of 2020. The loss of regular school routines and time with friends might feel miniscule in comparison to loss of income, health insurance, and a sense of predictability, but when these things are all happening at the same time, it can feel pretty overwhelming to small children. While there isn’t yet a chapter in our evidence-based curricula about how to navigate parenting during a pandemic , our educators gave me some tips to help process current events.
It is important for parents stay as positive, supportive, and encouraging as possible. This is no small feat these days, but a positive attitude is contagious. Chronic stress and chronic adversity can have serious effects on individuals, organizations, and groups. In the same way we feel the negative effects of collective societal trauma, we can also feel collective joy when something positive is shared. Try to find time each day to share something positive. Kitchen dance parties are a quick way to change the mood. Most people find it difficult not to at least bob their head to Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September” and now there is a Trolls Movie version that is just as dance worthy.
Try to maintain a bedtime routine and keep bedtime consistent so your child is getting enough sleep. Bedtime has long been a challenge in my house and I can always tell when we have pushed bedtime too late by my children’s behavior the next day. With work and school schedules up in the air these last few months it is even more important to establish some consistency in the chaos.
Try to schedule some things to look forward to as well as spontaneous rewards. Give your child one day a week to pick dinner. If that is not realistic, play a game at dinner where you imagine it is your favorite meal ever and tell everyone about it. Maybe your children have worked hard at school on a particular day and you give them a special snack.
Take 15 minutes and let your child pick an activity to do together. Play helps build strong attachments between family members and creates a bank of positive experiences that can be drawn upon in times of conflict. Let your child pick the colors for an art project even if he or she chooses to color the pig purple or help your child build a Lego tower that you know will likely topple over in two minutes.
Model how to appropriately share feelings. Saying things like “This co-worker said something that hurt my feelings today but then I asked her about it and I realize now that she didn’t mean to’’ or “Wow, watching this news on television is really making me upset. I think I should probably turn it off and do something different.” Even expressing our own sadness or frustration about current circumstances is perfectly normal as long as it is framed in a developmentally appropriate way that doesn’t put the burden on your child – for example, “Yeah, I miss seeing my friends, too.” In our teen groups, they start their meetings with a game called “Sparkle or Slime.” They share one thing that made them feel great or one thing that felt slimy and icky from their day. It is a way to talk about emotions in a safe and easily understood way.
Most importantly, be gentle to yourself and be kind to each other. Dr. Brene Brown, author and research professor has said, “Imperfections are not inadequacies, they are reminders that we are all in this together.” The programs at the Children & Family Resource Center exist to help parents and caregivers create community. Our online support groups are meeting parents and caregivers where they are and offering support and tools for building healthy relationships with their children. Our preschool aged Incredible Years program is currently meeting on Zoom and there is still space to join our school aged group. If you or someone you know needs some extra support right now, call us at 828-698-0674 to get connected or visit www.childrenandfamily.org.