We Are All Missing Out
Prom, graduation, birthday parties, weddings, baby showers, school reunions, retirement parties… these are just a few of the major life events that have been put on pause this year. Not to mention sports tournaments, opening night of the school musical, art showcases, weekly play dates, after-work happy hours, family vacations. The sheer number of events we all looked forward to that have been canceled or postponed is mindboggling, and deeply disappointing.
How do we help our kids navigate the upset when we don’t really know how to navigate it ourselves? Nobody knows how long this will last, how many more events will be canceled, or when we will safely go back to life as we knew it. When our children stare up at us teary-eyed asking questions we can’t possibly have answers to, it can bring up a wide range of emotions in ourselves.
If you are struggling with how to have conversations with your children about the things they’re forced to miss out on, you are not alone. None of the parenting books seem to cover pandemics! As parents, we often put pressure on ourselves to hold it together emotionally for our children, but COVID-19 makes that harder to do than ever. And if we work too hard to keep our emotions in check, we might actually miss out on some valuable learning opportunities, both for our children and for ourselves.
So read on for some considerations about how to work with your and your children’s emotions to cope with corona-related disappointment.
Make Space for Emotional Expression, Whatever It Looks Like.
We are all impacted by COVID-19, but in many ways, our kids are among those impacted most directly. So much of a child’s day-to-day life is dependent on social interaction. By this point in time, every parent in the country is well aware that distance learning simply does not hold up to in-person instruction. And beyond formal instruction, so much of what children learn comes from activities outside the classroom – sports, after-school activities, and even play dates are loaded with opportunities to experience joy and work on teamwork, frustration tolerance, prosocial skills, etc.
Children have every right to feel robbed of this time in their lives. As parents, one of the ways we can help the most is simply to give them the space to feel the upset they are so entitled to. Just be aware that since children and teens are still developing their emotional expression abilities, they may not always articulate their feelings very effectively. While yelling, door slamming, and talking back might rank on your list of unacceptable behaviors at home, you might consider flexing these rules just a bit these days.
Now hear me out… children are currently facing emotions that may be bigger and more consuming than emotions they’ve ever felt in the past. On top of that, their lives are so over-controlled by the virus (as are all of ours!) that they can’t even leave the house without serious care and precaution. And finally, the amount of space they have to let off steam is now largely constricted to the home environment, where there are no guarantees of privacy (it’s hard to vent to friends over video chat when you never know if a younger sibling might throw open your door, or if you’re not totally confident your walls are soundproof!).
So instead of holding them to the same expectations we might have had in the past for how to express their emotions, give them some extra space to feel their feelings however they manifest. Short of being aggressive towards themselves or others, which is never safe and can’t be overlooked, you can show them that you understand how difficult this is just by accepting their emotions in any form.
Notice What Comes Up For You.
When children experience a surge of emotions, it often evokes strong emotional reactions from parents. Especially when we see our children in pain (particularly pain we can’t control!), we may have an urge to reassure them as quickly as we can in order to get the discomfort over with. Or we may get upset or even defensive because we are doing everything we can to manage the situation, and it can feel awful when it seems like everything we’re doing is not enough for our children.
Whatever it is you feel in those moments, observe your emotions. Don’t try to control or shape them– give yourself the space to feel your feelings by watching your emotions float in like a cloud. Then watch them pass by. Honor what you feel in the moment, and remind yourself that emotions are constantly changing, so any pain or discomfort you may observe will eventually fade away. Mindfully attending to your emotions and allowing them to come and go helps you feel more in control. This practice also models a healthy relationship with emotions for your children.
Listen to What Your Emotions are Telling You.
Now that you’re practicing tuning into your emotions rather than trying to change them, you might find that they offer you some valuable information. For example, if you find that you’re getting upset when you hear how upset your child is, your emotions are cluing you in to how he’s feeling and helping you be able to connect to him. Making connections between your own emotions and your child’s can help empower you further in talking to your child and being able to validate where he’s coming from.
Talk About It Openly.
You’re probably disappointed about the things you’re missing out on, too. It’s okay to feel that way. Trying to be a picture of positivity for your kids invalidates your own feelings, and it also usually doesn’t pan out in the long run – it’s like trying to hold a beach ball under water. It takes a lot of effort to keep those emotions tamped down, and the second you let go, they pop up and make a big splash.
So rather than jumping to make-it-all-better mode, it can be really healing for both of you to talk about how COVID-19 has affected your lives. And this includes the good and the bad! For a great bonding exercise, use the following prompts to guide your discussion:
- What is something you’ve missed since being in quarantine?
- What is something you’ve enjoyed about being in quarantine?
- What is something you’re looking forward to when quarantine is over?
- What have you learned about yourself during quarantine?
Nothing about the situation we’re in is normal. So it’s only natural for our emotions to come out in unexpected ways (such as your child suddenly refusing to eat his favorite food or your teen exploding out of nowhere). The more you can both accept and put words to your emotional experiences, the easier they are to recognize and understand.
So give yourself and your children the leeway to let those feelings breathe, then come together to make sense of what everyone is feeling. By openly acknowledging and sharing about the many losses you each are facing, you might find there’s actually quite a bit to gain.