This blog was authored by Katie Heimsath, Director of Preschool Programs
The Impact of Quarantine on the Family
As adults, we have access to information and possess the cognitive skills to understand what is happening in the world. At SEEC, we often talk about the importance of talking to children about difficult subjects. Giving children the language to identify and express what they might be feeling or are curious about makes it easier for them to navigate complicated situations. Even though young children might not yet be able to understand the complexities of a global pandemic, they recognize when something feels different and are perceptive to the changes in our attitudes and emotions.
Living and working at home during quarantine is no easy feat. Our lives and daily rhythms have been turned upside down and most of us are feeling stretched and limited in one way or another. Many of our SEEC families have reported an uptick in meltdowns and tantrums from their children
Typical tantrums can stem from a predictable or obvious problem, like if a child is hungry or overtired. Our current situation adds a new layer of emotion for children and adults alike: we miss our friends and being able to go out in our communities, we’re worried about our health, and we are adjusting to new routines. To add to that, no one knows when it will get “back to normal.”
How Can I Help My Child?
The best way to help your child is by being there, both physically and emotionally. Being close in proximity helps children regulate their emotions and feel a sense of security, so it’s no wonder that picking up a crying baby is soothing to them, or that some children feel better after getting a hug. If it seems like it would help, offer a hug or your lap to sit in while your child works to calm down.
In addition to the emotions, a tantrum generates a lot of tension and energy in a child’s body. Show them ways of releasing tension like taking big, deep breaths. Help them focus their energy on something calming like watching the clouds, or redirect their energy by mashing some play-doh.
It is important to also acknowledge your child’s feelings. Young children are still learning how to identify and understand their emotions, and giving a name to a feeling is one way to reinforce this learning. If they’re pre-verbal, try helping out by saying, “you look like you feel sad” or “you didn’t like when that happened.” If you can objectively narrate what happened, it can help the child feel heard and understood. If they’re verbal and able to tell you what they’re feeling, your role is to sympathize. If they told you they were feeling sad because they couldn’t eat snack with their friends at school, you could say, “I feel sad about that sometimes, too. I like eating with my friends. We both miss our friends.”
Emphasize that you’re there to help and problem-solve together. For younger children, you could offer one or two suggestions for moving forward. You could say, “It made you upset when you fell. I can help you up,” or “You didn’t like it when your brother took your toy. You want a turn. Say ‘me next!’” For older children, ask what would help them feel better or give them a suggestion. Then do it together! For some of the quarantine specific situations, it’s okay to admit that you don’t know the answer. Say something like, “I don’t know when we’ll go back to school, and that’s frustrating for me. I don’t like it when I don’t know when something will end! But, there are people working very hard to figure out that answer, so I know they’ll tell us when they can.”
Adults Feel Stressed Too
In a perfect world, we could all follow three easy steps to help our children get through a meltdown. We’re not in a perfect world, and we’re not even in a situation that feels normal to many of us. If you’re stressed or you overreact during your child’s tantrum, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Simply acknowledge what happened with your child! It’s powerful for a child to observe a person they love showing how they handle their big emotions. Remember, as adults we unconsciously regulate our emotions to make it through tough situations. If you have an opportunity to make that visible to your child, they’ll have one more example of what they can do to cope. It is also a chance to give yourself grace and a powerful reminder to your child that there is always an opportunity to try again.