A friend of mine who lives in Provo was telling me about a meltdown her 7-year-old daughter experienced this week.
Her husband was playing a game with their younger son when their daughter started to scream about how he wasn’t playing with her. Her husband’s first response was to try to reason with her about how he’d played with her earlier, but she kept getting madder.
My friend decided to back off. First, they had some dinner. Afterwards, my friend sat down and did a craft project with her daughter (even though, by her own admission, my friend hates craft projects).
With her physical needs cared for and a little bit of time, space and attention, my friend’s daughter eventually was able to express her frustration that her parents are at home all day but don’t spend any time with her. In her 7-year-old mind, she hadn’t yet understood what “working from home” means and that her parents weren’t purposely ignoring her for hours at a time.
Right now can be a really tough time for everyone. Routines are disrupted, kids miss their friends, and parents have their own deep existential fears about health and economic stability (One of my friends said he “saves that monster under the bed for his own sleepless nights”).
But what my friend’s story about her 7-year-old shows me is that caring for kids’ physical needs and needs to feel safe, connected and competent are all just as relevant as before this pandemic hit.
Just as before, be careful to not go too quickly to the “let’s reason this out” level of competence and skill building; feeling safe and connected come first. Sometimes what they really need is a little snack or some quiet and personal space to process.
Here are some ideas from local families about how you can care for these needs:
Feeling Safe (well-regulated, secure and relaxed):
“My 5-year-old was freaking out about the stores not having the things we needed. I took him to the store so that he could see everything that is there. We also talked about the what-if’s — what if we have to go to the hospital? What if we get sick? He had had a surgery when he was younger, so I reminded him how all the doctors and nurses were nice and he got cookies and slushies and warm blankets.” — Alison M., Provo
“I try to let them self-regulate with their home school. I make sure they are doing it, but I’m not standing over their shoulder fussing. They don’t need me to make this situation stressful.” — Molly H., Provo
“My ability to feel a lot more peace and trust through my faith has definitely helped the kids feel the same peace. We keep a really good routine, and when we talk to the kids, we are not fearful. Honestly, the first week I was, but I have a husband who helped me calm me.” —Jacqui T., Provo
“My kids usually go everywhere with me, so they’ve been taking it especially hard when I go out for groceries and leave them with dad. I usually let them know what’s happening in advance, give them hugs and kisses, and let them know that Dad is here, and that it will be quick. It’s the idea that I’m not going to be there that’s more anxiety filling than if I’m actually there or not.” — Rachel M, Orem
“We just moved and my 2-year-old is taking it hard. When she lashes out, we try to catch her before she hits and say, ‘Do you want a hug instead?’ which usually results in a yes and a snuggle.” — Kayli A., Utah
“My son played Magic the Gathering with his friends via webcam today.” — Amelia G, Pleasant Grove
“We do Facetime and movie night every night with my super social 7-year-old to help her calm down.” - Amber R., Provo
“Minecraft is actually a way for my kids to connect, in addition to hiking, games and Zoom chats with teachers and family.” — Connie P., Riverton
Neuroscience has shown us how important a feeling of safety and reliability and a feeling of connection is for kids behaving well, making the grades you want, and overall enjoying peace in the family. (For more information on the science behind this, Dr. Bruce D. Perry’s work on Regulate Relate Reason is helpful.)
As a parent or other caring adult, you’re especially equipped to meet those needs and help kids thrive.
By Michaelann Gardner, United Way EveryDay Strong Director
Learn more about the approach of Safe, Connected, Confident on United Way’s website and get a free resilience handbook at www.EveryDayStrong.org