Dr. Fran Martin
We’ve been at this, this quarantine for a long time: Two months now, and still counting.
I am watching children, and of course their parents, (but I’ll come back to them) lose some of their excitement over the newness of no school. Like the rest of us, they are missing life as they had come to know it – the routine of school or day-care, days filled with friends and predictable activities, and then time with their parents. Needing to be home all the time, seeing no one but immediate family is getting old and tiresome. Fuses are becoming shorter; resilience is diminishing. What seemed kind of fun at first, now may feel way less exciting.
Most children do not have the words readily accessible to express all of this. They need us, the adults in their lives, to help them make sense of it all. YES, it has been a long time. NO, we do not yet know when it will end. YES, it is hard – it is hard for all of us. NO, you still cannot play with your friends, go to the playgrounds, the pool or karate class.
What you might be seeing at home is more resistance to doing school work, to getting up, to going to bed, to most anything being asked of your children. They are showing you with their actions how they are feeling about this. They are frustrated, angry maybe, and most certainly sick of it all.
What can we do? Not much.
Not much, except what we always strive to do, namely help our children make sense of the world. We can listen to their complaints and their concerns – yes, with patience, which we may not have much left of ourselves. We can tell them the truth – as simply as possible, even for older kids. These days, I do believe less IS more: It IS hard, really hard; it can feel scary. BUT, by staying inside, washing our hands, wearing masks and maybe gloves when we go out, we are protecting ourselves as well as others.
We might even admit that WE are getting sick of it all too.
But let’s take it a step further: an age-old technique for helping a child out of a tantrum is to join them in their rage. For those of you who have ever tried it, the results can be stunning. Try screaming or throwing a stuffed animal or two in solidarity and watch your child stop in mid-action! As they watch a grown-up stomping or screaming or yelling just as they had been doing a minute ago, children become intrigued and their own overwhelming emotions begin to diminish.
What I have been suggesting to my own adult children, trying desperately and admirably to help their children navigate all of this, is to engage in family tantrum time. I think we might all be able to use a little time and space to release all of the pent-up feelings we have been carrying. All you need are some pillows and a safe space. The rules and parameters can be yours. At an agreed time, everyone can shout or stomp, punch or throw pillows, yelling their anger or rage or frustration as loud as they can for as long as they want. It doesn’t usually take long to get it out. Sometimes, just being silly together can have the same effect.
Followed by a good laugh, a bit of clean up and re-iteration that though this IS really hard, this too will pass everyone might feel much lighter and looser. Big feelings are natural and understandable. It is good to have a designated time, space and place to express them, and even more someone to express them to (and with) who will understand.
Helping children express or release those feelings that are interfering with their daily tasks frees more energy for fun and creativity. Once they are less burdened by unpleasant feelings, with or without words, children become much more open to trying new things, or to finishing those tasks that may be required. With new energy comes the opportunity to do new things – together: sing a song, do a dance, bake a pie, read a book, call someone – everybody likes to know you are thinking of them during these strange and isolating times! Reaching out to someone might be one of the most meaningful and gratifying things we can do.
While we are all alone in all of this, we will get through it together. Taking the time to name, and express our feelings in a safe and loving space is a very good start.