By: Dr. Cat Baker, PhD, BCBA-D
What and how we are communicating to our children matter. One thing that we CAN control during these uncertain times is our actions as a parent. Our language and what we are teaching our children can have such a positive impact on them. AND we’re likely spending more time with our children right now with virtual school, fewer adventures outside of our “pods”, etc. Our children see and mimic us all the time. They copy our behaviors and moods perhaps much more smoothly than they listen to our words. Remember, most of our communication comes from the body language and tone of voice than the actual words we use. Being mindful of how in addition to what we say about current events is a great opportunity to model how to navigate stressful situations for our children. You also have the opportunity to decide what information enters your child’s world. Chose positive content with what you expose to them and what you do as a parent.
As I’ve said before, while it’s not “easy as 1, 2, 3…”, here are 3 simple but helpful tips for communicating during this time.
- Turn Off the News (….and social media)
The news is not designed for young viewers. It often focuses on repetition and fear and negative outlooks. They use a sense of urgency to keep us tuned in. However, as adults we are able to navigate these tactics and discern what information we are receiving and how to filter it. Children do not need to be burdened with headlines and panic. In fact, it can be confusing for them and create a sense of overwhelm. We should be their news filter and communicate with them in simple, age-appropriate terms what is going on in the world without exposing them to the fear and urgency embedded in media.
- Be Mindful of Perspective
Choose your family’s perspective and communicate that with your children in a positive manner. Instead of “We cannot go to the park because it’s too dangerous and there are so many germs everywhere that can hurt us…”, try, “We get to stay home to help protect ourselves and other people from spreading germs. Let’s turn our home into a park today!” Children naturally lean towards imagination, creativity and positivity and when we set the tone for that in our homes, they tend to jump on board and may even teach us a thing or two.
- Hold Space for Emotions
The term “hold space” means to reserve conversational time and emotional energy so that you can help those around you process the tough stuff of life. While this concept comes from the counseling profession in working with our clients, it is a perfect strategy for parenting in a rough time. Make space for your children to ask questions and share their thoughts and feelings. Use open ended questions. Do not judge their perspective. Do not feel like you need to “fix” anything for them. Simply give them opportunity to share. Consider having a drawing pad for them to “color” their thoughts and feelings if they are not able to put them to words.
If you notice that your child is having a harder than usual time processing emotions, or they are starting to escalate, do not hesitate to contact a professional to ensure that they are getting the emotional care they need in this time.