As children, we learn how to navigate life by what we hear, observe, and experience. What is the cost of sharing misinformation with our children? Could there be a better way?
Up to the age of nine we have little interest in cognitively understanding what we experience. Nor do we have the skills, or abilities, to process many of life’s significant events.
Our well-meaning parents, grandparents, teachers, and guardians pass on what they have absorbed during their childhood. We then teach our children how to navigate life’s experiences; blindly following what we were taught.
One of the myths we have acquired over time: children are resilient. We believe children do not experience life’s challenges the emotional way an adult would. We believe they have the capacity to bounce back quickly.
Our current situation is demonstrating another perspective – children are struggling.
According to Sick Kids Hospital, the mental health of a large majority of children suffered during the first lockdown[i]. This resulted from the lack of social contact, in-person schooling, sporting events, celebration of milestones, and involvement in special occasions.
“We found that overall, children were faring mostly worse, and occasionally better, compared to their pre-pandemic selves,” says Dr. Daphne Korczak, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at SickKids and Principal Investigator of the study. “We also found that the mental health impacts of the pandemic were greater for school-aged children during the first lockdown, underscoring the importance of in-class learning and extracurricular activities for children.”[ii]
As adults, we process stress based upon what we know. Many of us were taught to self-isolate, be strong for others, stay busy, or wait for time to take away our pain. As children we were encouraged to replace our loss with food, games, toys, and animals. We were taught to bury our pain and distract ourselves from the emotions we didn’t want to face. These are the same coping skills we are unintentionally passing onto our children.
Today, we must do things differently. When it comes to identifying and processing emotional pain, we have to do better. We must provide our children with a different role model than pretending we are all okay.
How do we do this?
- We go first. We show our children we are not okay. We tell them how we are feeling. We provide them an example of how to express their emotions and show them it is okay to talk about loss.
- We create a safe place. We become a heart with ears, open to listening to how our child is feeling without trying to make things better, judge or fix. We allow them a safe place to express how they are feeling.
- Refrain from telling them you know how they feel. A child will have their own feelings, separate from our own. We may remember how it felt when we experienced a loss. However, what our children are experiencing today, we can not truly comprehend. We cannot fully understand because we have not experienced this type of significant change in what was familiar.
- Avoid replacing the loss. Do not buy them toys, give them extended time on their devices, or food to comfort their unhappiness. Be there for them. Be present. Teach them how to be honest with their emotions. Helping them to identify, and label, how they are feeling is one of the most powerful ways of defusing the emotion.
- Be available organically. The best discussions take place in the car, at bedtime, spontaneously. Be available when your child is ready to share. Avoid forcing a discussion.
My father-in-law used to say parenting was the only job we did without training. We never really know how we did until our job is finished. As parents, we do our best to prepare our children for life. We invest time, energy, and money into teaching them how to read, write, and do math. We give them the practical skills, to ensure their survival. Many times, we may overlook the emotional lessons. This is usually because no one gave us any emotional instruction. We teach them how to obtain ‘stuff’, but we seldom give them the tools to process the loss of that same ‘stuff’.
To reference Russell Freidman, “In no other life area does crucial inbound information have greater consequences than in our emotional response to loss and other grief producing events. Grief, though infrequent, is universal and inevitable.”[iii]
Tammy Adams, Certified Coach Practitioner offering support, in-person or online, Canada-wide. She is certified in The Grief Recovery Method®, Personality Dimensions™, Reiki, Access Bars®, and Mindfulness. To learn more about the services she offers, book a 20-minute free phone consult, or visit her service tab on her website at www.tadams.ca
[i] The referenced report, posted on February 26, 2021, did not include extended restrictions.