All of these feelings are normal and totally legitimate. It’s ok to have them. There are no ‘bad’ feelings. But there are difficult feelings and we want to make sure we don’t get stuck with them or let them take over our minds to a point where it’s no longer healthy. The word emotion contains the word ‘motion’, because they are calls for action. They need to go somewhere.
So the two main pieces of advice I’d like to give is to make sure you don’t judge yourself for any of the feelings you are experiencing and to make sure you express them in some form so they (and you) can move on.
The same is true for your children.
Yes, it’s good to keep them busy and distracted but please, also make sure you give them space and opportunity to express their feelings and to ask questions you may find difficult to answer.
Children will normally only ever ask as much as they need to know. So you don’t need to give them all the information at once but only deal with what they ask for.
It’s important to be calm and measured but also not to lie. This is a difficult and scary situation but it’s also an opportunity for your children to learn from you about resilience and how to deal with challenging times.
It’s also a great opportunity to talk about your family’s values and how you apply them to this situation and in fact, to talk about how situations like these make all of us ask ourselves who we want to be: helpers who try to make things better or people who add to the problem and make things worse?
Often, thinking about ways that you and your children can help and make things better is one of the best ways to help them deal with their emotions.
Here’s a list of 6 activities you can do with your children to help them manage their emotions:
- Breathe. Do some easy deep belly breathing activities with your children. Lie on the floor together and place a hand (or their favourite toy) on your belly and make it rise and fall with the breath. Maybe then follow with a guided meditation or progressive muscle relaxation together. There are lots of free ones that you can access on YouTube or Apps such as Calm, Headspace or Insight Timer.
- Ground yourself in nature. If you are living somewhere where you are still allowed outside for walks, get out in nature. Walk barefoot on the grass, hug a tree or lie on your back and watch the clouds pass by. Being in nature makes us feel connected, grounded and gives us a bigger perspective.
- Get creative. Draw or paint a picture about the situation or, even better, get them to draw a picture of what life will be like afterwards. How we will celebrate and hug and dance and laugh when this is all over.
- Write letters or emails of encouragement. Maybe write to your elderly relatives or an elderly, lonely neighbour. Maybe your children would like to say thanks to the people working in hospital. Let them reach out in ways that will make them feel like they are doing something to help. Smaller children could just draw a picture instead of writing something.
- Eat healthily. Involve them in cooking nutritious food for the whole family to help keep everyone healthy.
- Exercise. Anxiety and fear in particular are emotions that want us to move (fight or flight) and that activate all the hormones in our body accordingly so it’s important to use the body to exhaust them. Again, there are lots of videos on YouTube that you could use to learn a dance routine together or do some other form of exercise. The Body Coach Joe Wicks now also does a PE session every morning at 9am for children.
These are my Top 6.
Other than that, don’t stress about your ‘performance’ as a parent.
This situation is already difficult enough without stressing about things such as whether or not you’re doing homeschooling right, if they spend too much time in front of a screen or anything else like that. What they will most remember from this time is how it FELT. So focus on that. Make sure they feel loved, safe, calm and cared for. This is an extraordinary situation. There is no rulebook. Just do what works best for your family and keep yourself and others safe, wherever you are.