I woke up this morning the same way I always do. I have a 6:30 am start so I can lay in bed and look at the news for the day. It is not surprising to see the same thing that we have been watching for 18 months. The country is desensitized to the raging Covid pandemic and though the headlines speak to the recent climate report, people are done. It is heart-wrenching to watch what is unfolding in Afghanistan, my heart goes out to all of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice as well as to their partners and children. On top of it all is the political maneuvering, division, and fighting over politics and policies, it is overwhelming.
At home with my four children, anxiety is also running high. It’s almost palpable. Because as much as we would like to think our kids are insulated from “adult problems,” sadly, they are not. The two middle kids are fighting more, the baby is locking himself in the bathroom. And my oldest, who has worked so hard and for so long to be a good soccer player, accepted a spot on the high school team, with trepidation.
While we adults wrestle with what the “new normal” looks like, we need to ensure we are still able to be present, have fun, and support our children. Below are a few strategies and suggestions for handling these tumultuous times.
First and foremost, make sure you’re taking care of your own mental health first. As the airline attendants say before takeoff, put the oxygen mask on yourself first. When we are stressed, anxious, fearful, or angry, our children feel it. My second child is an empath and his behavior correlates with the mood in the house. Be mindful.
Make sure you are providing yourself time for self-care, be it going for a walk, stretching, or taking a hot bath. Put down the screen and read a short story or book with your children. Take a family walk or look through old pictures to reminisce about good times. Bottom line: make sure to be mindful about filling your bucket. Your children are watching.
Recognize that acting squirrely or downright defiant (or worse) is a signal to parents. Instead of focusing on the behavior that’s irritating, make sure you take a deep breath before reacting. Remind yourself that we are in a prolonged state of situational anxiety. All of us. Some of our children have not been back in person, in school, since March 2019. They have been sequestered behind our safe walls, their world turned upside down. Before you reprimand them for bad behavior, make sure you take a deep breath before you react. Think: is my kid acting out of anxiety? Are they tired, hungry, or lonely? Are they neurodivergent and need extra support or redirection right now? Have I given them my undivided, positive attention lately?
Talk to them with the intention of really hearing them. I have a tendency to talk too much. As parents we are fixers. Oftentimes saying things like, “you don’t need to worry about that.” The deep conversations that I have with my kids often happen when we are alone together in a car, or in the most unexpected moment. Usually when I’m super busy. My immediate reaction in my brain is that I don’t have time for this. My intentional reaction is I am so lucky that my kids trust me with their inner thoughts. It is a blessing that they seek out my ears to share their most precious truths, worries, and accomplishments.
Finally, now here’s a biggie. Does it really matter? Recognizing that we are struggling and could be reacting out of fear, anxiety, or stress is important. When the baby locks himself in the bathroom, is that really the end of the world? We have a key. We can unlock the door. Let’s get him out and redirect or talk about what is going on. When kids color their hair, have a messy room or paint their hands or body, does it really matter? When they cover themselves in mud or use all of your dish soap to make a slip and slide, is it the end of the world? Annoying? Maddening since it is the 10th time this has happened, yes. But right now we all need a little grace.
When I look at the landscape around us, I feel like the whole world is on fire. It can be incredibly overwhelming. To create the spaces that our children need to thrive and to learn to navigate, in the new normal, we must lead with intention. The intention to hear them, the intention to be available, and ensuring that we are in the best place to receive, process, and harness those feelings for good. Now go get it!