Coping with Children’s Emotions During a Pandemic

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January 25, 2021

I hope you and your family are safe and healthy.  As the pandemic drags on, I know that many parents are understandably feeling weighted down by pandemic fatigue.  For some families, this is compounded by the fact that children are experiencing more intense emotions and dysregulated behavior.  When you are exhausted and feel as though you have few coping resources available, how do you manage an intense moment with your child?

First, make sure everyone is physically safe.

  • “Freeze.  You may not hurt anyone and I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
  • “Stop.  I see two kids hurting each other.  Everybody take 3 steps back.”
  • “Halt.  You can punch this pillow but you may not punch me.”
  • “I need a break.  I’m stepping in to the bathroom and I’ll be out in 2 minutes.”

Once everyone is physically safe, focus on the emotion and express genuine empathy.  Use words to succinctly describe the feelings your child is expressing.

  • “Looks like you are so sad and disappointed right now.  This is really hard.”
  • “I get that you’re feeling so angry right now.  I wonder if your body feels like a volcano that is exploding.”
  • “I’m noticing how upset you look.  I’m so sorry ____ can’t happen.  That is really disappointing.”

Support coping and problem solving.

  • “I see two kids that both want to play with the same toy.  How can we solve this problem?”
  • “This is a really tough situation.  What ideas do you have about solutions?”
  • “I know you are very upset.  Can you think of something that might help you to feel better?” 
  • “I remember that you made that list of strategies to help yourself feel better.  When you’re ready, let’s look at the list and you can make a choice.”

A couple of parenting script to keep in mind for when teenagers are experiencing intense emotions:

  • “Is there something I can do that won’t make things worse?”
  • “Do you mostly need to rant right now?  If you do, I’m here to listen.” 
  • “If you want help with problem solving, let me know – I’m here.”

If you’re experiencing a lot of these intense moments, know that you are not alone.  Pandemic parenting is really hard.  After a difficult moment with your child, remember to practice self-compassion and give yourself time and space to cool down and return to a calmer state, even if that means heading into the bathroom for a couple of minutes and taking some slow, deep breaths.

Finally, I want to leave you with a feeling of hope expressed in these words from Amanda Gorman’s exquisite inauguration day poem:

            For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it.

            If only we are brave enough to be it.

 

Warm regards,

Rachel