The coronavirus has had a massive impact on everyone’s emotional wellbeing, especially that of children.
Children look up to adults who mirror their emotional state. When adults are emotionally sound, they transmit a sense of security to the children.
According to Dan Siegel, children need the 4Ss in order to thrive. They need to feel:
- Seeing is not only limited to the eyes, but children need to feel that the adult perceives their emotional state and is able to offer adequate emotional support to them. This perception provides a binding connectedness, where the child experiences existential meaning, and knows that the adult keeps them in mind irrespective of whether they are physically present or not.
- Adults serve as buffers to the needs of the children. Children need to experience the adults in their lives as sources of safety, they do not harm them. Predictability is crucial here, because it offers a child a structure which in turn gives them a sense of stability. Adults offer containment to the child, and the child knows that they are safe.
- Children need to know that when they are in distress, there are reliable adults who offer them comfort. This is also through consistency – the adult can be relied upon to provide protection to the child in distress. Adults serve as role models where they teach the child to integrate suffering into their daily life without becoming overwhelmed by it.
- It is important for adults to provide secure attachment to children, and this is built on trust. The child knows that adults can be depended upon, they will not abandon them. This allows the child to acquire the ability to deal with separation without getting distressed. The adult helps the child to return to homeostasis after a distressing experience. They can learn to reclaim their power – they learn to utilize their internal resources in their daily life. Children who are securely attached can be themselves, because they know that the adults in their lives love them unconditionally.
These four Ss summarize the emotional needs of children. However, with COVID-19, much of this has changed, both for adults and for children. The following are ways that could support children navigate this period:
- Teach children that feelings are temporary – they change, and things do not remain the same. Remind children of the past strong emotions that they no longer feel now, and reassure them that even the strongest emotions change. Have them write this on sticky notes to remind them when they need it
- Name to Tame – help children to name their feelings. Dr. Lieberman carried out a research in this regard and concluded that when we name our emotions, we move from a purely emotional response (amygdala) to engaging the thinking, rational, problem-solving part of the brain (pre-frontal cortex). Naming helps to regulate emotions (Harry Potter – no one has the courage to name the villain, Voldermort – but only Harry Potter does). When we do not name something, we give it a lot of power, but naming it makes it more manageable. Heightened states of emotions activate our limbic system and we move into the fight, flight, or freeze response, focusing more on surviving than thinking through situations. Help children to ask: the strong emotion I am having now, how big will matter in two hours? Just because it feels true, does not mean it is true. Help them to look at how they have felt in the past and whether they can recall the feelings…, and what made them cope
- Be calm and proactive as a parent – having an open conversation with the children about their fears and anxieties helps them to feel supported. Allow children to do everything possible to protect themselves and others, and when they have done their best, they should not focus on worrying.
- Create healthy distractions – like playing together, cooking, gardening, etc. Activities that help children to channel their energy in a constructive way
- Discuss solutions with the children – many times we underestimate the capacity children have to find solutions to problems. If they cannot reach their loved ones physically, work together to find ways to keep contact with those they love. Remember that social distancing does not mean emotional distancing, but it is physical distancing.
children in physical movement. This helps them to:
- Channel their energy constructively
- Develop vital connections in the brain leading to improved concentration and thinking skills
- Prevent physical ailments
- Experience a sense of oneness with those they are involved with
- Keep their body flexible
- Develop healthy heart and lungs
- Develop healthy bones, muscles, joints, and posture.
mindfulness with children. Mindfulness is defined as the basic human ability to
be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly
reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us (Mindful Org). This helps
- Increasing focus and improving attention span
- Nurturing healthy relationships
- Regulating emotions by responding more thoughtfully and mindfully
- Growing kindness and compassion
- Improving communication with those around them
- Recognizing the good things that are around us and focusing on them – developing an attitude of gratitude.
We can enhance children’s resilience through the above practices. As adults, dedicate time to self-care, as you cannot give what you do not have.