As we continue to process and redefine our sense of “normal,” I encourage you to take a moment to be proud of the hurdles you have overcome so far. Although we are experiencing the same pandemic, it has affected us in different ways, and thus has built our resiliency differently. Some examples of resilience that I have noticed in my clients are: adjusting expectations (for both ourselves and our loved ones), putting things into perspective, and being intentional with how we connect and recharge. As we know, resilience grows through our experience of challenges. While we cannot always control which challenges will test our limits, we do get to choose our responses.
For me, one of the more challenging things I have had to navigate is how to support my young ones during this time. My son, a first-grader, and daughter, a kindergartener, keep me busy–and COVID isolation has been the first time we have spent THIS much time together on a day-to-day basis. I shared with my husband that right when I had an established routine and had all my ducks in a row, the universe scattered all my ducks and said, “Nope! Let’s see how you do now!” So far, the universe’s test has been an eye-opening experience and has come with a mixed bag of enlightenment, raw vulnerabilities, frustration, and gratitude. All this said, I could not help but wonder: What about the kids?
So much has changed for our kids in the last 7 months. One day they went to school and the next day, life as they knew it changed. They no longer see their friends and teachers, or attend their after school activities. Everything was yanked away from them in the matter of 24 hours. With this massive change they have obviously experienced an array of emotions that probably include uncertainty, excitement, frustration, and fear. My kids were no exception to this, and my parent capabilities were tested to figure out what they needed from me and what they had to figure out on their own (even with my support). It came down to one central idea: Social-emotional coaching.
Sure, I would like to think I have a general foundation in this area because I have worked with kids in the past, I consider myself to be an active parent, and my career focuses on validating and creating space for understanding. However, just because you have a foundation in something does not mean that there isn’t any room for growth or to challenge what we already know. On the contrary, when we feel we have a strong foundation in anything, we begin to become complacent with our processes and methods. For me, complacency was not an option and I humbled myself and went down the rabbit hole of resources, talking to other parents, and focused on my goal: Being a better parent today than I was yesterday.
With that said, this post is part I to a two-part series. For Part 1, I would like to share things to consider as you refine your relationship with your child. Your relationship with your child will act as the foundation for when you provide social emotional coaching throughout their lives. Part II will introduce a social emotional concept that you can use to help your child work through their fluctuating emotions as well as some coping skills and methods.
Parent-Child Relationship Concepts
- Quality time: Observe your child while they play and find opportunities to enter their world. Make intentional time to spend one on one time with them through reading, playing, or otherwise engaging. You can tell a lot about a child’s personality and how they think by spending quality time with them. Think about it this way: you would be more receptive to hear another adult’s input and feedback, if you had an emotional connection with them through shared experiences, creating memories together, and feeling understood. This task does not have to be overwhelming. It can be as simple as spending 20 minutes a day to connect and make it all about the two of you (no distractions). Now if you have been already doing this, challenge yourself to take it to the next level. Maybe spend an afternoon a week with your child doing things you know he/she would enjoy.
- Set the balance: Does your child get enough sleep that is conducive to their brain development? Are they receiving the proper nutrition on a regular basis? Do they get enough “off screen” time where they can cultivate their creativity? Are they being physically active daily? Are they being challenged? Its important to have these physiological needs met on a daily basis, because just like how adults can be short tempered from lack of sleep or we feel sluggish and lazy because we were not as active as we would’ve liked, kids need a regimen to make sure they are in optimum shape (to take on challenges later).
- Coping skills inventory: Does your child have a way to engage in healthy outlets? Do they enjoy to de-stress by drawing? Cooking? Listening to music? Meditating? It will be important for them and for you (as their social-emotional coach) to begin identifying things and methods that help them feel safe, secure, and comforted.
- Building their feelings vocabulary: Help your child identify their emotions and normalize them. Have you ever been upset or frustrated with something and another person tells you to “calm down”? Sometimes when this is said, it can be intended to help you regulate and see the bigger perspective. However, most times, when this is said to us, we feel dismissed or feel like the other person does not want to deal with our emotions. It is helpful is to have someone provide a safe and secure place where you can be seen and heard. If you need a vocabulary reference sheet for children, feel free to look at this one.
- Learn to deduce, not fix: Focus on the child, not your expectations of them: Behavior is information. Rather than trying to extinguish problematic behaviors, see if you can pinpoint what led up to this moment. Was it a transition? Is it the same type of transition? Identify what your child’s common themes are that put them in specific emotional states.
I hope this post was helpful and you continue to give yourself credit for your continued sense of resiliency. Take time to intentionally connect with your child so that you can continue to support their resiliency as well. We may not see the direct results of connectivity right away and we must be mindful in how we may be projecting our expectations to the child or process. Just like other parts of life, its not about instant gratification. It’s about planting the seeds and nurturing the growth. Once these seeds are planted and nurtured over time, it creates room for other concepts to take place. Stay tuned for part II of this post!
Diana Nesko, MS, LGMFT provides family, couple, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office and virtually to clients in the state of Maryland. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Diana!