Cynthia L. Eppley, MA
There is so much sorrow and loss swirling around us during this Pandemic. As adults, I speak with many who are struggling. But what about the children? They haven’t developed the verbal acuity to describe what is happening within their hearts. They let us know in other ways.
Children are like sponges. They pick up on the verbal, physical and emotional cues around them. It might be the radio or nightly news that they overhear. It might be our dismay over our bank account. Or very heavy sighs over continued lockdown and social distancing. Certainly they overhear our conversations on the phone. They may see Mom and Dad working from home, or some configuration of that dynamic. Honestly—have we ever really spent that much time together? And as parents, are we handling that well? Little eyes are watching us. What do they see? What do they hear? How do they react?
If we are anxious and stressed, expect your children to reflect that back to you. “Children will pick this up and feel it too,” said Denise Daniels, a child development expert and creator of The Moodsters, who recently authored a free workbook to help children cope with COVID-19.
Lack of Routine and School
Remember the Movie: The Kids are Alright? For our children, the world is not right on so many levels.
Children are suddenly thrust into the middle of our adult worlds as we try to work. Daycare is closed. Their schools are shut down and so they lack the input of their teachers and their friends. No more play dates. Even the local playground has been closed off. What used to be normal to them? Is not normal anymore.
The mild mannered child you have known may become grumpy and moody. They’re flaring at you for seemingly minor things. But children are not able to recognize and verbalize their feelings of fear and anxiety.
Recently I had a conversation with a Grandmother who asked her tearful grand daughter what was wrong?
“I don’t know! I just don’t feel right!”
And this little girl is absolutely correct.
Things are not right. Her world has been turned upside down and she doesn’t have words to explain the inner turmoil.
You may see your independent toddler become glued to your hip. Their stress is shown in regression of behavior, and their anxiety is expressed in a physical, tangible way. A clingy child is trying to express their inner fear and turmoil, but lacks the verbal ability to share this with you. You have now become their comfort; for now, this is the security they know and need.
If they have been potty trained, you may see them move backward in maturity. Thumb-sucking may be a comfort, coping mechanism.
Or talking is now exchanged for baby talk. They intuitively understand that as a baby, they are comforted, held, and reassured.
Older children may forgo their own iPads for younger, simpler sibling toys. And older children have been known to reclaim their beloved “blankeys.”
Adjustment and Anger
These times are hard for adults to navigate. Flexibility and adjusting are difficult. How much harder it is for our children! Outward anger is typically a mask for inner, unexpressed emotion. Keep communication going and connect with your child. Connection and validating your child will be covered in another article.
Sleeping or eating patterns have Changed
Children may not be sleeping well. Their inner anxiety is getting the best of them. You may find them crawling into your bed at night. Then the entire household is awake as we try to lead them back into bed.
Perhaps this is the time to sleep in their room next to their bed. Or have them sleep next to you on the floor in your bedroom. A “slumber party” may be the reassurance they need.
Some have complained about the continual grazing their children do all day. The grocery bill is sky high. Children often eat out of boredom and frustration.
Make Connection Foremost
Rachel Macy Stafford, Hands Free Revolution has a special bedtime ritual called the “Heartbeat Check.” Why bedtime? The worries of the day are winding down, and we just may see the heart and soul of the child we love. Each one is unique. Each child has their own concerns. But for every one, checking in with their deepest emotions offers them unconditional love and connection. It offers comfort. It offers refuge.
People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
“At many times throughout their lives, children will feel the world has turned topsy-turvy. It’s not the ever-present smile that will help them feel secure. It’s knowing that love can hold many feelings, including sadness, and that they can count on the people they love to be with them until the world turns right side up again.” Fred Rogers
In this topsy-turvy time, let our chief goal be to connect with our children. To love them unconditionally and assure them that we are there for them.