Life as we knew it has changed for everyone, parents and children included. School has stopped or is limited for most children. Parents are working from home or not at all. Usual recreational activities have ended. The adjustment to these changes has been challenging for all.
Older children are better able to process these changes and express their feelings about their situation. Young children, however, are less developed emotionally, cognitively and in the use of language to express their questions or confusions. Parents are sometimes at a loss trying to explain to children the need for wearing a mask, social distancing and the loss of favorite activities.
A reader wrote to me about a book she wrote with her daughter about the impact of Covid on her four-year-old granddaughter whom she calls, Brave Maeve. This seemed to me to be a resourceful use of time during the pandemic, worth looking at. The story, told in Maeve’s voice, describes the changes in her life and what she has been told about the germs that are the cause.
It is a familiar story with lovely illustrations that can be helpful to parents in opening a conversation with their little ones about what they are living through. Parents at times feel unsure about how to have such conversations, particularly if a child’s adjustment has not been so smooth. Our attempts to give recognition to children’s feelings can sometimes sound a little rote. We lose the feeling in feelings.
What I mean by that is that feelings are emotions, and are usually expressed in very emotional ways. If we are angry or upset about something, we not only express it in words, but in our voice, body language, and facial expressions. There is intensity in the way the feeling is expressed. For example, I saw a child in a stroller rip off his mask in frustration. A child’s rebellion at current restraints can take the form of a temper tantrum.
Hopefully, as adults we have some measure of control over the way we express our emotions. Children, on the other hand, are mercurial – everything is black or white. Children express feelings in extreme ways, primarily through their behavior.
Our children want to let us know how strongly they feel about a situation and we have to let them know in a convincing way that we do understand. But we can’t expect that just by recognizing the feeling verbally we will make it go away. Accepting anger is not easy, especially when it is coming from our children who often express emotions in behavior that is difficult to deal with.
We not only do not like it when children are angry, we often have a hard time accepting the whole range of our children’s emotions. We would like them to be happy and even tempered all the time. Life would be so much easier if they were. Besides, too often when they are not it seems as though it is somehow our fault.
As parents, we too often feel that somehow it is our responsibility to make it better. And yet, as adults we are also struggling and wish someone could make things better for us.
Children feeling angry or rebellious in the current situation is especially difficult as there is no end in sight to offer as reassurance. Even Maeve may not be brave all the time. What we can offer is real understanding about how hard this is, letting them know that whatever they are feeling, they will feel better eventually. They really don’t know that, and sometimes we forget it too.